Scandal's Olivia Pope Was Almost Played By An Entirely Different Actress

Photo: Mitch Haaseth/ABC.
It's hard to say if Scandal lovers would still be as obsessed with the show if actress Kerry Washington weren't at the helm. However, in an oral history of the show's first 100 episodes, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Friday Night Lights actress Connie Britton almost played Olivia Pope. At least, that's what ABC originally wanted after the show, which follows a professional crisis-handler in D.C., was picked up. If not Connie Britton, then some other actress who is white.
For showrunner Shonda Rhimes, however, it was of utmost importance that Olivia Pope was portrayed by a Black actress — and not just because the inspiration for her character is a D.C. crisis-solver named Judy Smith, who is also Black.
"Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness," Rhimes explained to The Hollywood Reporter. "I didn’t know that there hadn’t been a drama series with a leading Black woman for 37 years."
However, once the show was picked up, she got a phone call "from somebody who said, 'This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.' I said, ‘It would be, except Olivia Pope is Black.'"
In fact, during a meeting Rhimes discovered that everyone who the network wanted to star in the show was white.
"I panicked," she revealed to THR. "Somebody finally piped up, 'We’re going to have to redo this list.'"
People like Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose auditioned for the role, but the part ultimately went to the unforgettable Kerry Washington.
"In the first season it was as if Olivia Pope was raceless," Washington said in an interview with Glamour earlier this month. "There was no denying that Olivia was a Black woman, because I’m a Black woman, playing her in badass white trench coats that call to attention the fact that I’m not looking like anybody else on television. But we didn’t talk about her identity as a Black person. [Since then] the writers have become more and more willing to deal with race."
No shade to Britton, though! "This would have been a great role for Connie Britton!" Rhimes told THR. It just wouldn't have sent the same message that the showrunner had been fighting for, and that the show illustrates perfectly with the dynamic between certain characters and the themes it so expertly handles episode after episode.

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