Shonda Rhimes and the Cast of ‘Scandal’ Dish on the Show’s Behind-the-Scenes Secrets

The stars of the Washington, D.C.-inspired show reveal the method behind the magic

ABC's "Scandal" stars Jeff Perry as Cyrus Beene, Joshua Malina as David Rosen, Darby Stanchfield as Abby Whelan, Portia de Rossi as Elizabeth North, Tony Goldwyn as President Fitzgerald Grant, Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, Bellamy Young as Mellie Grant, Scott Foley as Jake Ballard, Katie Lowes as Quinn Perkins, Cornelius Smith Jr. as Marcus Walker and Guillermo Diaz as Huck. (ABC/Craig Sjodin/Lori Epstein)
smithsonian.com

Washington, D.C. is no stranger to Hollywood renditions of its melodrama, and in 2012, it became the backdrop for “Scandal,” the ABC drama series inspired by real life Washington crisis management expert Judy Smith.

Starring Kerry Washington as the fictional Washington, D.C.’s “fixer,” “Scandal” is one of three drama series from the prolific Shonda Rhimes that make up ABC’s #TGIT, thank god it’s Thursday, nights. And for some fans (or gladiators as we call ourselves on Twitter) based in the real Washington, D.C., last Thursday was the ultimate #TGIT at the Smithsonian Associates event Scandal-ous! held at the University of the District of Columbia’s Theater of the Arts.

An early screening of the week’s episode preceded a panel featuring Rhimes and Washington plus the show’s other main actors—Tony Goldwyn, Bellamy Young, Katie Lowes, Guillermo Diaz and Jeff Perry. Moderated by Martha Raddatz, ABC News’ chief global affairs correspondent, the panel conversation covered a variety of topics from life on the set to character development to interacting with fans on Twitter.

So, fellow gladiators, here are a few of the secrets the actors and Rhimes revealed about the world of “Scandal:”

The real life election is mirroring the show’s election, not the other way around.

Besides the clearly fictional plot lines such as the president’s ex-mistress’ running of the president’s ex-wife’s campaign for president or the attorney general’s sleeping with the vice-president, several of the scenes in the show’s current season nearly mirror the headline-making moments of the real-life presidential election. While some critics have wondered if the show’s writers are inspired by the real election, Rhimes assured us that the parallels are mostly coincidence.

“A lot of the things that we’ve been writing have been actually happening in ways that we have not expected,” says Rhimes. There’s literally a story line that we have coming up in the next week’s episode that we wrote, and it’s edited, and all ready to go, and then word for word it kind of happened this week. I was like ‘I don’t know what we’re gonna do!’ Truth is becoming much stranger than fiction.”

The cast has never shot a scene in Washington, D.C.

Those scenes on the benches in front of the White House or on the steps of the Lincoln monument are actually shot in front of green screens on the show’s set in Los Angeles. “It’s the sad reality,” says Washington. But, added Perry, “it’s the cooperation between the set people and the CGI people that’s kind of amazing.”

But, the b-roll shots of D.C. are real.

The film crew shoots footage in D.C. to use as backdrops on the green screen, and they are the only film crew that has ever been allowed to shoot on the White House’s Truman Balcony. While the actors stand on a faux version of the balcony on set, the images of the balcony’s view projected behind them are footage the crew shot on location.

The actors do not see the script before they all come together for a table read.

The table read, the moment when the entire cast and crew meet to read the script out loud, usually happens the day before they’re set to begin shooting the episode.

“We know the show so well that reading it the day before you start shooting it, you have a visceral reaction like an audience does to what the show is and what’s happening and you can then work incredibly fast because you have this very powerful emotional response to the episode, which sticks with you when you go home and learn whatever you have to learn and work on your scenes, sometimes for the next day. It’s amazing so we all really look forward to it,” said Goldwyn.

The table read is just as much for the writers as it is for the actors. “I don’t feel like I know a script until I’ve heard it read out loud by the actors. So a table read to me is really important,” explained Rhimes.

She adds, “literally the scripts are hot from the copy machine because sometimes I’m typing up until the very last second or some writer’s typing up until the very last second. We’re late. Sometimes a lot of magic happens because we’re late and sometimes it’s kind of amazing that what comes out works so well in that way. We didn’t mean for everyone not to be able to read the scripts until the table read but because we’ve always been so late, that’s what started to happen. That magic made it so exciting for everyone so that’s the rule,” she said.

So, do the actors give their input during the table read? “Ummm, yeah, we don’t mess with magic,” joked Washington.

“Scandal” airs Thursday nights at 9/8c on ABC

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