When I first saw this cover, I remember thinking what a beautiful dress. Upon closer inspection I asked myself why does Kerry’s face look weird? I guess I wasn’t the only one who asked myself that including Kerry Washington. She has spoken out about how the cover does not look like her and she was well within her rights to say so. It’s unfortunate because the interview is a really good one and I hope that people will at least still read it.
Why did Confirmation speak to you, as an actress and producer? I’ve been wanting to produce for some time because I want to have more creative control over the things that I do, and not be victim to the whims of other people’s desires. This story resonated with me because I had really personal memories, not as much about the hearings themselves, because I was probably about 13 when it happened, but I had real memories about how it affected my parents, their feelings about the hearings. And it was one of the first moments that I was made consciously aware of my own identity intersectionality: the idea that there may be times that I feel passionate about something as a person of color, and there may be times that I feel passionate about something as a woman, and there may be times when those two things are at odds with each other. So it was a poignant moment in my own developmental understanding of who I was.
The film is filled with scenarios that will be familiar to Scandal viewers—you’re facing off against D.C.’s power players, and surrounded by a pack of reporters—but your Anita Hill is nothing like Olivia Pope. How difficult was it to keep those performances distinct? One of the reasons I was drawn to the project was because even though the environmental context was similar, this is a woman who is on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of access and power. That part of it was fascinating for me, to flip the circumstance upside down, to not be an insider.
So because it was part of my fundamental understanding and part of what drew me to the project, it wasn’t something that I felt like I had to baby-sit because there’s nothing about this woman that is like Olivia Pope. It was really freeing for me to do something so different, and a little bit of a relief. I come from film where I only play a character for three months at a time and then it’s done, so it’s important for me to be able to put on other hats and make sure that all of the tools in my toolbox that don’t apply to Olivia Pope are still in shape.
At this point in Scandal’s run, are you still happy to let creator Shonda Rhimes and her team take Olivia where they want? Yeah. I’m not a producer on the show, and I’ve never sought to be a producer on the show. It’s not something that I felt was necessary. Shonda and the writers are in control of that, and I show up and try to bring it to life.
Does she give you a heads up about the show’s biggest twists, like your kidnapping storyline last year, or Olivia getting an abortion earlier this season? No. I had no idea that the abortion scene was coming until I turned the page at the table read and read it out loud with everybody else. There are occasional moments when she’ll give me a hint about something that’s coming, but it’s very, very rare.
You’ve partnered with so many brands. How do you determine which ones make sense for you to join forces with? There isn’t an algorithm that I plug a brand into. It really is about having an authentic, organic excitement and connection to it and asking myself, is this work that I would be proud of? Do I feel like it will be as rewarding as it is time-consuming? Because for me, none of the partnerships that I’m in are me [just] being the face of something. I am extremely hands-on and integrated in each of my relationships, so it has to be worth it for me. … I worked with companies earlier in my career where I knew very early on when it wasn’t a match for me. I’m grateful for that wisdom because now I know how to make those choices.
You’ve been involved with Neutrogena since 2013 as a creative consultant and brand ambassador, and helped them launch a new foundation line in January. Why was it so important to you to be so heavily involved? They are always at the forefront of innovation and science and beauty, and it’s not a company rooted in making you feel like you have to be somebody else, using makeup to change you. It’s about bettering you, making your skin more healthy so that you can reveal who you are. That perspective felt in line with my own views on female identity and self-esteem. But I knew their cosmetics line was not one that I could utilize, or that women who looked like me could utilize. When I joined the company, I think the darkest foundation shade was tan, and it was not a match for me [laughs]. They wanted to elevate their beauty profile and really lean into their makeup line, relaunch and expand it. I don’t want to work places where I don’t get to have a voice, and this felt like a place where I actually could have a really important voice. It’s been so unbelievably rewarding for me to be literally in the labs and testing products for years.
Was inclusivity also behind your upcoming nail line for OPI, which will have shades for every skin tone? Yes, but also, I just love Suzi [Weiss-Fischmann, OPI’s co-founder and creative director], who is an unbelievable female entrepreneur, a real role model. I also believe in partnering with people you respect and admire, and she built a phenomenal product. Because this is a more limited partnership, it’s really much more about the fun of it.
What led to your Apple Music ads with Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige? That came together through friends of mine: Steve Stoute, who is the head of Translation Marketing, and is like the brother I never had, and Jimmy Iovine at Apple Music. Steve felt like people know the Olivia Pope side of me, and the real-world White House side of me, and the magna cum laude Kerry who gives speeches at commencements, but they don’t really know hip-hop Kerry and Kerry from the Bronx, the way Steve does. He felt like that was a part of my brand that I wasn’t doing a good enough job getting out there. There aren’t a lot of products and a product space that live in that part of my identity that I would necessarily want to partner with, but Apple Music was a no-brainer.
Your longest partnership has been with Movado, which goes back 10 years. We joke all the time that not a lot of marriages last 10 years, so we must be in love. I think a lot of times people are scared to take risks in terms of the evolution of their brand or artistic activity because they are nervous about losing professional relationships. And Movado has never wavered. When I didn’t know if I was going to ever do another movie again, when I was doing a play on Broadway and it was costing me money rather than making money, other companies may have been like, “Well, Broadway isn’t really a high profile … .” But Movado said, “Great, we’ll buy the back page of Playbill.” They have trusted in my journey.
Have you started to think about what you want the next phase of your career to be like after Scandal ends? I don’t know specifically what’s next. I found the experience of producing on Confirmation to be extremely rewarding. I learned a great deal, but I also feel like I was able to bring a lot to the table, and that was a really rewarding experience. So producing will definitely be part of it. I am really loving design and I want to continue in that area. But I’m not sure. I’m going to continue to follow the opportunities that really speak to me authentically and genuinely, and see where they lead.