Shonda Rhimes on Scandal’s Insane Pacing, Where the Show Will Go Next, and Why the C.I.A. Guy Was Named Grayden
In preparing my profile of Scandal star Kerry Washington for V.F.’s August issue, I spoke on the phone with the show’s tireless creator, Shonda Rhimes. For those of you who need a Scandal-info fix to tide you over until the show’s third season, here are a few bonus highlights from our chat:
MILD SPOILER ALERT: If you’re new to Scandal and plan on catching up, read no further.
David Kamp: Scandal has something in common with George Lucas’s Star Warsfilms: its maiden episode joins the action in the middle of the greater saga, rather than at the very beginning. Did you have the whole superstructure ofScandal’s various interweaving storylines mapped out when you began the show?
Shonda Rhimes: We had some elements of the superstructure in place. In the sense that we definitely started in the middle: When you come in, Olivia Pope is working at Olivia Pope and Associates, and she’s already had the affair with the President, and she’s already gotten him elected. All of that stuff has happened in the past, and now we’re sort of somewhere down the road from all of that.
So we knew that we were in the middle of that, and that we would be going back to look at all of that. When we first started, we got seven episodes from the network, and we thought: “Well, that’s all they think we’re going to do.” And so we really made it a seven-episode arc, and put a lot of things that we were excited about to the side. We told what we felt was a story that could be told in seven episodes.
When we came to Season Two, there were things that we didn’t know. For instance, we didn’t know exactly who Quinn Perkins [played by Katie Lowes] was. I love that we can bounce back and forth, to reveal things as needed. It was purposeful for me that we didn’t reveal anybody’s backstory early. People say, These characters have no backstory. Well, there’s a reason for that. You’re discovering it along with us, as opposed to a lot of shows that tell you exactly who everybody is up front.
Was the withholding purposeful in the sense of holding something in reserve? Or was it that you, the writers, did not know the story yet?
Parts of it we knew, and we weren’t sharing. Parts of it we absolutely did not know.
Take Joe Morton’s character, the mysterious guy who talks to powerful people on park benches. When you introduced his character, did you know that he was Olivia’s father?
I absolutely knew. When we hired him, that was the first thing I told him.
So he knew.
Yeah, he was the only person who knew. And I told him that he couldn’t tell another living, breathing soul. I knew that he needed the underpinnings of what that meant for his character. And so I told him, but we didn’t tell anybody else.
So she must have had a shock at the table read.
Yeah! She didn’t know until she turned to the last page of the script, of the finale, and saw the word “dad.”
Does Joe Morton’s character even have a name?
In the script he’s called Rowan. Although whether or not that’s actually his name is debatable.
There are so many hairpin plot twists in Scandal that influence both the story going forward and the chronology looking backward. How much do you wing it when you’re writing? Do you ever say, We’ll just write this and worry about working out the consequences later?
No, we never do that. We always have an endpoint. I can’t start writing something unless I know how we’re going to end it. I knew how we were going to end the first 13 episodes of Season Two, and I knew how we were going to end the back 9 episodes.
So it’s not that we’re ever winging it—I call it “following the character.” My contract with the actors is, We’re going to write all the words and you’re going to say all the dialogue, exactly as it’s written. So then we write it, they act it, I watch. Sometimes I see something that somebody does, and I go, Oh, that means that, or, This character feels this way. That infuses something into where the character’s going to go next.
You go through more plot in the space of a single episode of Scandal than David Lynch went through in the entire run of Twin Peaks. How do you keep your foot so relentlessly pressed on the pedal without running out of ideas?
We wonder that, too. I’ve said a million times, any other television show would have ended Season Two with the president’s being shot—episode eight of our season, that would have been the end. We made a decision that we were going to go at a breakneck pace. And it serves the story well. I feel there’s a speed to this that works. The Season Two finale had, like, 15 different endings. But we had so much story to lay out that I felt like, lay it all out, don’t let it get boring!
Why did you choose to make the show’s presidential administration Republican?
For one main reason, which is that I wanted the president to have a much more conservative, Tea Party–ish religious vice president that he was dealing with. So he is the sort of middle-of-the-road Republican who would never have gotten elected unless he had a very conservative vice president standing by his side. It gives the show a little bit more conflict.
We still know virtually nothing of Olivia Pope’s past. As we go into Season Three, will we learn about more of who she is, or was, as a person?
One last, very important question: Was the name of Scandal’s doomed C.I.A. director, Grayden Osborne, at all inspired by the name of V.F.’s editor, Graydon Carter?
No, but I do love the name Graydon. It’s a good name.
So you just pulled “Grayden” out of a hat?
We did, a little bit.
Oh, that’s disappointing.
Well, we had him shot in the head. I don’t think your boss would like that.
Source : VanityFair.com
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