Kerry Washington Tells Us Why Her Brain Is More Important Than Her Body

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1Photo: REX USA
In case anyone's keeping track, Kerry Washington is really and truly winning at life right now. She's fresh off a summer wedding to the love of her life (football player Nnamdi Asomugha), her hit series Scandal is about to head into its third season, and she's one of the most sought-after magazine cover stars in Hollywood. And on top of all of that, she's perpetually making it a priority to advocate for women in all kinds of public forums. Yesterday, ahead of her show's big night, she stopped by the Paley Center for Media to tape a segment for the PBS series She's Making Media —and we were there to soak in some of her irresistible charm.

As it turns out, thanks to her fan-favorite (and Emmy-nominated!) show, Kerry Washington has a hard time separating herself from Olivia Pope. Not only do viewers constantly confuse her with her Scandal alter ego, but the actress finds that more and more, she is connected to the formidable fixer — and, she's as much a fan as the rest of us. "I was a gladiator from day one," she told the audience. "I'm always discovering new things about Olivia Pope."

Of course, her acting career wasn't always the thriving success it is today — in fact, due to her parents' hesitations, it almost didn't happen at all. As a real-estate agent and a professor of early education, they had high hopes for their daughter and could never resist an opportunity to drop hints about the allure of more cerebral fields like law and medicine. "My mother literally cried when I told her I wanted to be an actor," said Washington. She also struggled with her identity and self-worth in her early days in the business, but her education helped keep her self-consciousness at bay. "I always felt like my intellect was of much greater importance than my appearance, which I think has been a blessing for me," she said. "Because I am not stupid. I just always thought to myself, 'I'm just gonna be smart and funny instead of looking pretty.'"

Of course, as we all know, her looks do their damnedest to keep up with her brain. Today, Washington is one of the most beautiful and radiant celebs we know, and she's developed something of a cult following thanks to her on-point fashion choices. The turning point for the actress came when she decided to stop playing it safe. "I guess for a long time I would approach fashion with a specific idea I was trying to convey," she told us during the pre-show red carpet. "I remember in the beginning of my career I wanted to embody a more classic, traditional, ladylike aesthetic, but I think maybe I've become a bit more of a risk-taker recently. So, I still have my core style, but I like to have fun."

Her not-so-newfound style has served her well on the set of Scandal, as well. Olivia Pope is probably as famous for her fierce pantsuits as she is for her take-no-prisoners attitude, and she has Washington to thank for it. "Lyn Paolo, our brilliant costume designer, and I work hand-in-hand," she said. "We go into the Olivia Pope closet and it's like two mad scientists. We just, we take it very seriously because we think the clothes say a lot about her, and we love working together."

While fame has delivered Washington some pretty amazing perks — the ability to make a difference, and an Emmy nod among them — it's also brought some challenges alongside them. First and foremost, the actress had to learn to use social media. Luckily for her, a childhood best friend — who just happens to be a social media consultant — stepped up to the plate to teach her the ropes. "My understanding of Twitter is that it was a bunch of famous people telling you when they're going to the bathroom!" exclaimed Washington. "And that was not something I wanted to be a part of."

Now that she's got the hang of it, though, she's tackling the issue of handling the spotlight. "I have to be more conscious about my boundaries," she said. "And, the choices that I make, to keep my personal identity intact." It may seem tricky, but her outlook embodies the strength that truly is Kerry Washington — and that's precisely why we admire her so much. "My work belongs to everyone, because that's the choice I've made," she said. "But, my life belongs to me." For our part, we're just thankful that she's let us in at all. And brought us the marvel that is Olivia Pope.