Moderated by college football analyst for ESPN and ABC Jesse Palmer, Palmer welcomed the audience and talked about the excitement of the upcoming 100th episode (“The Decision” is scheduled to air on April 13, 2017.) of the show that is now into its sixth season. To get the crowd into the mood, Palmer took fans right back to the beginning of the show with a screening of the very first episode that opened in a Washington, D.C. bar. It’s where viewers were first tantalized with the idea of being a gladiator in a suit. Watching the episode again, I was struck by the pacing of the dialogue – the beats were fast and furious – and where stopping to take a breath could mean missing something important. And, armed with five seasons of character development, the audience picked up on all of the seeds that had been planted by the writers, to be sown at a later date. The audience soaked up the episode; the theater was abuzz with energy and excitement.
After the screening, Palmer came back on stage and introduced each cast member to enthusiastic applause: Cornelius Smith Jr. (Marcus Walker), Joshua Malina (David Rosen), Darby Stanchfield (Abby Whelan), Jeff Perry (Cyrus Beene), Tony Goldwyn (President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant), Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope), Bellamy Young (Mellie Grant), Scott Foley (Jake Ballard), Joe Morton (Rowan Pope), Guillermo Diaz (Huck), Katie Lowes (Quinn Perkins), and George Newbern (Charlie).
Palmer started the panel by stating that social media impacted the popularity of the show, so he asked the cast about their thoughts and their interactions with social media. Washington commented that they often tweet between shooting scenes. She mentioned they tweet during peak times for east and west coast fans. She joked that they would do their scenes and between the scenes – Young, Washington, and Goldwyn mimed burying their heads over their phone screens – they would all be tweeting. Young added that she feels the energy from the fans, something that she appreciates. Lowes said that #ScandalFamily is truly the cast. She commented that as a newer actor, she feels fortunate for the chemistry and support of the rest of the cast.
For a series that premiered mid-season 2012 with a total of seven episodes, it is a testament to the strength of Shona Rhimes’ (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) writing and production skills, but also excellent casting choices. In anxious anticipation of the 100th episode, Palmer asked if Goldwyn could provide any clues to what will be revealed. Goldwyn said that it will be a “what if” episode – think alternative universe – but he added that the episode will actually inform viewers to certain decisions made; hence, the episode is titled “The Decision.” In a sweet moment, Goldwyn gave all the credit to Washington for being a consummate professional and an anchor for the cast. Washington got teary-eyed, the first of a few times during the afternoon. Lowes acknowledged the masterful writing skills of the script writers. Malina stated he was very much looking forward to the episode.
“What the Huck?!” Palmer exclaimed, asking Huck about the cliffhanger of him getting shot this season. Diaz related that his Twitter account blew up after the episode aired. The audience all agreed with Palmer that they want Huck to stay alive. Speaking of the challenges that all of the characters have gone through, Palmer asked Stanchfield about her character Abby. She said that it was revealed that her character was a victim of domestic violence and that Abby has come a long way. Per Stanchfield, “I’m not bored!” Palmer then asked Young about her role as former First Lady Millie Grant and a candidate for President in season five. He asked when is Millie going to be elected president. Young said, “I can taste it.”
Perry related that the cast gets the script approximately 7 to 14 days ahead of shooting, so they are all just as surprised as the fans are when they watch the episode. Young concurred. She said they have to live with season cliffhangers just like the fans. Palmer asked Perry about all that Cyrus has been through. Perry weighed the many faces of Cyrus – the conniving Cyrus vs. bastard Cyrus. Perry asked the rhetorical question: “Will he learn?”
Jake is the mysterious man with a top secret past that has him involved with a CIA sub-division known as B-613, but also a spy for Fitz. He plays all the sides. Foley said his character lives in a place between good and evil – a place that all of the characters inhabit actually. Smith is the newest member of the cast and plays Marcus Walker, a civil rights activist. He said that he is “always prepared for a happy ending.” Palmer asked if Marcus and Millie would find love. Smith was mum on the subject. Morton, who plays Olivia Pope’s father, Rowan, said that his character has “incredible language” due largely to his character’s cover position as the Smithsonian Curator of Antiquities. There is a philosophical and poetical pacing with his lines, so it is probably no surprise that his weakness is love.
Palmer asked who the biggest prankster is on the show. All of the cast members immediately pointed to Malina. Even the audience outed him. His innocent “boy-next-door” expression seemed to say “What? Me?” Palmer then asked Newbern about Charlie’s relationship with Quinn, which is highly unconventional. Newbern said of his assassin character, who also worked for B-613, that Charlie is just “looking for some sort of normalcy.”
Palmer asked the panelists their favorite memory from the show. Smith said it was the “I’m Just a Bill” episode because it was his birthday. He had a scene with Washington in which Olivia tells his character “you are not done.” The moment hit home for him. Malina said it was when James (David Bucatinsky) was assassinated late in season two that he realized that he would be continuing on the show. (He was updated to a series regular in season two.) Stanchfield had two: the first was when Abby reminded Olivia it was her name on the door. And then in season five when she reminded Fitz that she was Abby. For Perry, he remembers a scene with Goldwyn and they were talking about political greatness in front of the portrait of Alexander Hamilton. For Perry, he felt that that could have been the heart of Cyrus showing through – unabated truth before all of the political maneuvering jaded Cyrus.
Goldwyn related it was the Election Night 2012 scene he did with Washington in front of the Constitution, which just so happened to be the country’s real election night in which President Obama was elected to his second term. Washington interjected that “we were the people,” modifying the first line from the country’s founding document. Washington also had two favorite memories. She said that first was not from the show, but stated that it was when the Scandal ladies came to visit her after the birth of her first daughter, which was very important to her. The second was Harrison’s (Columbus Short) funeral scene. It was an emotional scene and one where they got to say goodbye to one of the original cast members – the first cast member to give the gladiator speech in the first episode.
Young related a scene in which she felt she found both footing in the series as a character as well as confidence: It was the scene in which she tells Fitz to “get over her!” Additionally, she mentioned that when Washington was presenting an Academy Award, she felt immensely proud of being part of the Scandal family. Foley said his most vivid memory was of his scenes with Washington in the Bahamas. Washington interjected that Disney provided them a company plane because they did not want the excursion leaked and negatively impact the surprise of the show. Morton said for him it was, of course, the reveal in the end of season two in which viewers find out he is Olivia’s father and then in season three to just find out more about his character.
Diaz related a behind-the-scenes memory. He said there was a bird that was somewhere on set during season two that the cast could hear. It led Malina to develop a bird call with the word “bird” – just talking about it led the cast to break out in laughter and several of the cast to start imitating the call that Malina created. Lowes said it was the opening scene with Harrison in which she stated, “I want to be a gladiator in a suit.” She also teased and said her other favorite memory is in the 100th episode. And Newbern also had two: the first during a fight in which Charlie reveals his grandmother has died. And the second was watching Jake pretend to dance. Both cast and audience encouraged Foley to stand up and do a little dance – he did, briefly, before sitting back down.
And with Foley’s dance as the close, there was just enough time to take a few questions. Goldwyn was asked about how to encourage others. He said to “go with your passion” and to “fuel the flames” since it was better to give 100% than to wonder years later what could have been. Washington was asked what she has learned from Olivia Pope. Her immediate answer: “running in heels!” Then, she added she learned how important it is to surround yourself with the people you love. The last question was more of a comment from a cancer survivor who said she had been in a lot of pain and the show got her through a very difficult time.
With that, Palmer thanked the guests and the audience. Afterwards, much of the audience walked up to the edge of the stage where the cast was available to sign autographs and take selfies with the fans.
Photo credit: HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 26: Moderator Jesse Palmer with the cast of Scandal at PaleyFest LA 2017 honoring Scandal, presented by The Paley Center for Media, at the DOLBY THEATRE on March 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. © Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center