It’s not easy playing the most powerful man of the free world, but “Scandal” star Tony Goldwyn has put a spell on millions of fans as the handsome, charming and manipulative President Fitzgerald Grant III. The “will they or won’t they” love affair between Fitz and crisis manager Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is must see tv” on Thursday nights.
Born into Hollywood royalty (his grandfather Samuel Goldwyn was one of the founders of MGM Studios), the talented actor and director is blazing his own trail in Tinseltown by helping to bring a more diverse vision of the world on the small and big screen.
We caught up with Goldwyn to discuss being the other half of primetime’s most controversial couple, scoop on Season 3, working with Shonda Rhimes and why cultural diversity is so important in Hollywood.
TUD: In the season premiere, we found out Fitz leaked Olivia’s name to the press. What was your reaction when you read the script and how hard was it to keep secret?
Tony Goldwyn: I was totally shocked. The obvious choice was Mellie, but I thought that was too obvious a choice. The way we tend to read our scripts, we do our table reads a day or two before shooting, so the cast doesn’t see the script until then. So it’s become this ritual at “Scandal” where we experience the script collectively. Everyone was shocked but I was really pleased because last season was really tough for me; Fitz had worked so hard at committing to telling the truth about Olivia, only to to end up crawling back to Mellie with his head in her lap.
Even though Fitz has repeatedly said Olivia’s the love of his life, he is still with Mellie. It does seem Fitz gets a perverse pleasure from this power play with his wife. Could it be that Mellie is Fitz’s soulmate and not Olivia?
Absolutely not! It’s very complicated because Fitz has love for Mellie, I think he feels a deep responsibility for her since she’s family. He respects her intelligence, but they have this love/hate relationship where sometimes he loathes her but also wants to take care of her. She’s the mother of his children and has compassion for her, but there’s no comparison to what he feels for Olivia. For Fitz, there’s not a doubt Olivia is the love of his life.
We’ve heard about Jerry and Karen, Fitz and Mellie’s two older children throughout the series. When can we expect them to drop by the White House?
I have no idea, I’m not sure Shonda does either. What’s so fantastic about this show is that the writers are so open. I know about as much as you do.
In the first season of “Scandal” Fitz was presented as this fantasy-type, romantic hero, but in the second season we saw a darker and more manipulative side to him. Was there ever a point where you wondered “Fitz has gone too far, I don’t think the fans will forgive him for this”?
For Season 1, it took Shonda a long time to decide whether Fitz actually slept with Amanda Tanner. When I read the script about the sex tape Cyrus found, I thought they were going to write me off the show because I thought Fitz’s character would never recover from sleeping with this woman. But one of the executive producers told me “No, it’s not true!” Then in Season 2 when Fitz kills Verna and rejects Olivia at the funeral, that really shocked me and I could barely get the words out at the table read.
When you first signed on to play Fitz, did you have any doubts that people would tune into a show about a White married president having an adulterous affair with a Black woman?
Actually this is what I loved about the show. Frankly, my only concern when Shonda asked me to do it, was that it wasn’t just about me having an affair with an intern. That’s not all there is to Fitz and I suspected that Shonda would write him more complicated than that. I loved the idea of Olivia and Fitz’s relationship, that they’re in this adulterous affair but actually in love with each other. I thought it was genius. I love how the writers can make a character do something totally reprehensible yet you find yourself rooting for them.
While the majority of “Scandal” fans are rooting for Liv and Fitz, there were criticisms comparing them to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, which Shonda addressed in Season 2. Were you concerned about the comparison?
With the Sally Hemmings/ Thomas Jefferson comparison, I know Kerry and Shonda had discussed it. The most interesting thing about it was that we waited so long to address it. We never mentioned the interracial relationship in the first season. When Shonda did address it, with that inflammatory accusation Liv made to Fitz, I thought it was bold and brilliant. Shonda doesn’t write the world like “I hope this is what the world will be” she writes it as “This is the world.” Whether it’s a Republican gay chief of staff (Cyrus), or a White president in an interracial adulterous affair, the way she approaches racial politics, sexual politics – you could really go on a soapbox about it.
You have a 2014 TV pilot “The Divide” which features two African-American leads (Damon Gupton, Aunjaunue Ellis). Do you feel the success of “Scandal” made it easier to sell a show with lead actors of color?
I think Shonda was ahead of the curve in casting diversity, she just has her finger on the pulse of the zeitgest. I mean for myself, I was really looking for a project featuring an interracial love story, as an actor or a director. So with “The Divide” I actually sold the concept of this series to AMC a month before I started on “Scandal.” AMC was committed to the show before “Scandal” even happened.
Working so closely with Shonda, has it influenced how you cast your projects in regards to diversity?
It’s made me think more deeply about it. As a White man it’s very exciting for me that my entire work life is in close collaboration with people living the African-American experience. To have my life so diverse is incredibly exciting. The way Shonda views the world is exactly how it should be. The writers for “The Divide” we have multiple perspectives, so it’s not a room full of White guys with just one Black writer. I find having all these different cultural and gender perspectives very fulfilling.
Ava DuVernay will be directing the eighth episode of “Scandal” this season. How is it working with her?
It’s great. I’ve only worked a couple of days with Ava for this particular episode but I really admire her as a filmmaker, she’s lovely and so excited to be here. Everyone seems to love her.
Olivia’s father, Rowan has made it clear that he has no love for Fitz. Seeing as Rowan has no qualms about eliminating anyone to protect his daughter, is Fitz willing to risk his life to be with her?
Yeah, Rowan absolutely hates Fitz! (laughs) The feud between Rowan and Fitz is going to get so interesting, so dark and so complicated. You guys are gonna freak out when you see where that’s going.
We’re also finding out that Jake and Fitz’s connection goes much deeper than being military buddies. What can you tell us about this Remington file?
It’s worse than you can possibly imagine. It’s really bad.
What can we expect from tonight’s episode?
The word is explosive. All I can say is, Fitz finds a way to intrude into Olivia’s world in a very important way.
You can follow Tony Goldwyn on Twitter: @TonyGoldwyn
“Scandal” airs tonight on ABC 10PM EST