Washington, of course, doesn’t disappoint when we meet up. On a fall day in Midtown Manhattan, she walks into the restaurant of a swanky hotel, looking hood chic: tar-black bubble vest, a designer-knit sweater, slim-cut jeans, and some custom-built Nikes. Lunch is on the itinerary, but with the sun shining Washington asks to take a walk instead. She’d just awoken from a nap after flying in on the red-eye and running into a fitting. Yet, even with no makeup and her hair pulled back in a bun, she is radiant. She could have just walked off the pages of Vogue.
Outside, we enter Central Park through the Artist’s Gate on Sixth Avenue, moving past a crowd of tourists on camera phones, and turn up a walkway lined with benches. When Washington is out in public, rolling with friends and associates, she sometimes avoids eye contact with strangers as a courtesy to them. Having to stop every few minutes to talk to admirers, she knows, could get a little tiresome. Of course, she’s spotted anyway: One couple asks for a photo; and a woman has to tell her how much she loves Scandal. The show has been getting solid ratings, and in a week or two ABC will announce that it’s extending Scandal’s sophomore season from 13 to 22 episodes.
After years spent seesawing between commercial and independent films, Washington made the leap to television in 2011, becoming the first black actress in nearly 40 years to have her own major network drama. (The first was Teresa Graves in 1974’s Get Christie Love!, which ran for a season.) Scandal, produced by Shonda Rhimes, is immersed in Washington, D.C., politics. Not surprisingly, the actress loves playing the biggest “fixer” in town. She comes alive just talking about the character. “Olivia Pope is so much more powerful and sophisticated than I am, and she has more access!” says Washington. The character, loosely based on consultant Judy Smith, whose clients included Monica Lewinsky, is in a lot of ways the most complicated she has ever played. “Usually I go into my actor’s toolbox and say, “Okay, I need this tool and this tool and this tool,” states Washington, pretending to grab some hardware. “Everything else I’ll put away and go to work. With Olivia, every day I have both toolboxes! Every tool. She requires all of me: my brain, my body, my heart, all of it.”
Washington doesn’t exactly sit when she approaches a giant rock at the top of a small hill; she sort of perches atop it and takes in the sights. Over her shoulders is a row of gleaming skyscrapers. She breathes in the view and smiles. “Isn’t this great? We’re getting our vitamin D and fresh air.”
Washington is here to accept an award tonight from the youth empowerment organization Black Girls Rock. In an age of party girls and pottymouthed stars, and in a town where nice girls finish closer to last than first, Washington is a paragon of civility and integrity. Yet, she’s clearly riled by the idea of being some kind of saint. “I try to make the best choices for me,” she says, looking pensive. For her, it’s never been about, “Oh, this is what people should see or need to see.” “If you look at my body of work, I’ve always taken huge risks. At a moment when people considered me a serious actor, I’ll go work with the Wayans brothers on a silly comedy [Little Man]. I’ve played prostitutes, drug addicts, pimping lesbians. I do work I’m drawn to.”
Moschino coat dress; Pamela Love triangle ring; Jennifer Fisher gold ring;Trunfio pyramid ring; LaCrasia fingerless gloves; Fogal tights; Jimmy Choo heels.