You might think of Mellie Grant in ABC’s Scandal as a manipulative and bitter character, but you would be wrong. TV Equals caught up with Bellamy Young, who portrays the First Lady in the series, and as you will read in our exclusive interview below, Young shares some of the motivations behind Mellie’s actions, talks about her relationship with Fitz, teases a new flashback episode, and more.
The second season of Scandal premiered last week and will air its second episode tonight. But Scandal is not the only place you can see the lovely Bellamy Young. She also executive produced a film called The Cottage in which she also stars along with David Arquette. The movie will be available on DVD on October 9th.
But for now, let’s talk Scandal!
Mellie is having a baby boy!
Bellamy Young: I am, I am.
How did you react when you found out about that?
Bellamy Young: On a personal note, I was a little relieved because I had just stepped off a plane. I got to go to India this summer and I came back chubby. So, I literally got off the plane and found out, first, that they were making me a regular which was the best news a girl could ever get in her life, and then that I got to be pregnant, so that I didn’t have to lose a lot of weight. It was like the greatest gift in the world, but in terms of plot, which is much more relevant, it’s absolutely incredible because we’re just seeing Mellie in this one moment in time. I’m sure she’s been a lovely person before, and she has a whole life ahead of her where she’s going to make different choices, but right now she’s in a lot of pain, so she’s really acting out. So, to be able to look sort of beatific, cherubic and then also be given these amazing, painful, angry speeches, it’s just about the most fun on the planet. I can’t think of something any more fun than that.
A lot of people might see Mellie as a sort of villain, but I think a character is more interesting when they have more layers than just evil. Are we going to see more of Mellie before she got bitter?
Bellamy Young: They’ve given us a little more nuance this year, a little more ebb and flow, but I know what the cast is looking forward to, is that Shonda [Rhimes], when we did the Paley Center this year as they introduced the fall schedule and we were very lucky to be invited to be a part of that, and on that panel Shonda teased that she has a flashback episode in mind. Now, we only find out when we get the scripts handed to us. It’s always new news to us because Shonda is very close to the vest with her ideas and her stories and where they’re going, but I know that’s coming and I know that the cast is excited about it. So, when I know more I’ll tell you, but I know there’s a flashback episode because we loved that, episode six last year was our flashback, and we as a cast loved doing it and it seemed like people really responded well to it. So we were thrilled to hear that we get to do another one.
That was my favorite episode last season.
Bellamy Young: I loved it so much, and Tom Verica directed it. Tom is so talented. He’s was a beautiful actor when he was acting, and now he’s such a gifted director, and he did last night’s season premiere as well. There was a lot…it went through a lot of change, and he had to sort of piece it back together like a puzzle and there was a bit of re-shooting. I just thought that he did a superb job.
How much have you read in terms of episodes at this point?
Bellamy Young: We’re on episode six, and we just had the table read for episode seven. So, that’s all. We got the script yesterday. We got the script the night before last and had the table read yesterday for episode seven, so that’s all we know.
So you know a bit more than we do, definitely. Mellie was pretty manipulative in the premiere. Are we going to see more of that in the future?
Bellamy Young: Mellie has an agenda and she’s willing to do whatever to forward her agenda, but mostly because she just really knows she’s right and she really cannot believe that everyone doesn’t see how right she is. So, yeah, Mellie is always going to be trying to drive the bus, and frequently succeeding. She does a lot of good and she gets a lot accomplished, but it will continue to be a source of extreme friction in the Whitehouse and for Fitz who’s already sad from not getting to be with the love of his life. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
What do you think her end game is, what does she want?
Bellamy Young: I think Mellie wishes she was commander-in-chief and that’s the thing. So, her plan sort of evolves sort of day to day, like, ‘Oh, this is how I would handle this issue today. This is how I would handle this.’ Tony [Goldwyn] and I have done a lot of conjecture about our personal history together, because like I said, we’ll get a script and it’ll explain things, but until then you have to sort of fill in the blank so that you’re playing something real. I think there’s been a lot of Mellie in the driver’s seat. She had a plan, like they fell in love in law school and they sort of decided on this public life together, but she’s sort of been in charge of getting them there, using his charisma and gift. So, she continues to see that as her role. Just like she said in [the premiere] episode, ‘I’m not the one who’s changed. I’m doing what I’ve always done and we’re great together.’ So, I think on top of the pain of watching the man you’re married to find the love of his life for the first time well into your marriage, there’s also the pain of, ‘We’re a super team. Why are you shirking your job?’ She’s never going to make a decision that’s not in the best interest of the country. There are other ways to hurt Fitz, like there’s plenty of leverage that Mellie can do to hurt Fitz. Never ever, ever would she sacrifice the country. I thinks she really takes her job as the woman behind the man very, very seriously.
Speaking of Fitz, he said some hurtful things to her last night, and I’m wondering how that relationship will evolve this season?
Bellamy Young: I’m not married, so when I watch my friends and I talk to them about it, and of course having watched my mom, my mom is thrice widowed and I’ve seen her in a variety of situation; you’re never uglier than to the people that you love the most and no one knows you better. He says horrible things. I say horrible things. I mean, the wrinkle is that we’re not just sort of committed to each other in a marriage situation. We’re also in the crucible of the Whitehouse. So in a way, that extra layer of protection makes you extra reckless because you don’t have the luxury of the self-evaluation. ‘Oh, should we just get a divorce because we make each other so miserable?’ That extra onus and duty of serving the country, I think that makes you rail against the sort of ivory prison even more. Now she’s got like a long thousand yard stare. She’s got the long game. She really always does, and at the end of the day she loves him so much that it makes her willing to sacrifice the need for kindness.
Is there anything else in terms of what’s in store for Mellie this season?
Bellamy Young: Let me think, because you know Shonda will kill me. I got in trouble when I said one thing too much, and now I get nervous because this is the first time that I’ve done any of this stuff this year. So it’s been a learning curve for me. Let’s see, anything I can tell you about Mellie. I will tell you instead, like some larger things that I know I’m allowed to share.
As you can see, like the shiniest gem stone is that we have an incredible cast that comes and goes, and with the storylines this year. Like, we had Lorraine Toussaint come and play the grieved widow. I sat beside Lorraine Toussaint on a tiny little sofa and she, in the scene, had to go from zero to sobbing, in the course of a small scene. We do it over and over again, and it was like the way your body feels when a thunder storm is coming, like your atoms move around. It was insane. Greg Henry is with us, playing a sort of oil tycoon guy. You saw Jillian Armenante. last night, a lawyer who’s involved in Quinn’s case, trying to get all that resolved. There’ll be so much more with that, that we keep finding out, just layers upon layers. How crazy was the end of that show last night? When I got that script I literally gasped out loud. We have more political sex scandals that Tony is not involved, thank heavens, and we have missing college students. That episode is going to be great, I think. We have Patrick Fischler come and is a sort of government agent gone rogue. They just keep the story so juicy and so intense. We have to go ‘Scandal’ pace to fit all their story in, because there’s so much in each episode. I think that is all I can safely say.
In terms of playing a First Lady, does that give you any insight in what it takes to be a First Lady?
Bellamy Young: Absolutely. I mean, I say absolutely, but within the construct of our little fake reality. I think it’s all about expectation, like so many things in life. It’s a very specific job. It’s very prescribed, even geographically so in the White House, and a lot of like Fitz’s speech “ornamental, not functional.”
If you are going into it with the proper expectation, then I’m sure it must sort of feel like Wonderland, and if you’re going into it with any sort of resistance to that very specific job description, then it’s going to be an uphill battle. We’ve seen so many first ladies over the years, subvert is not the right word, but sort of expand that job description in a number of ways. Jacqueline Kennedy of course, through her grace and style, just elevated it. She was an icon. Hilary Clinton through her brains and her drive, she was able to expand the role into a much more functional vein. As gender relationships continue to evolve, it must be increasingly an amazing opportunity to redefine what it is to be a woman in America. Michelle Obama is doing that beautifully, and I’m so excited to see as it all progresses through the rest of my life, because that role in particular has been I think the one that’s changed the most, our figure heads in Washington.
Someone just mentioned to me the other day Warren G. Harding’s wife, who I have to say I don’t know enough about, but I’m very excited to learn about now. But I think through time, the first ladies, you can see the greatest sort of barometer of social change on that wing of the Whitehouse, the east wing and I’m excited to see where it’s all going and so happy to be sort of getting to explore it in my own way on ‘Scandal.’ It’s the best job.
If you could meet Mellie in real life what would you say to her?
Bellamy Young: Well, I think I’d take her for a hike because there’s a lot to talk about. I want to keep her hands and feet busy because I’m not sure I trust her, and we’d not need to be too formal. I wouldn’t want it to be an eating situation. And then I would just like to get her talking about things off topic so that I could see how her brain works, instead of asking her specific things because I know I’d never get any answers. I’d want a longer time with a physical component so that we could talk sort of philosophically.
You’ve guest starred on a lot of TV shows over the years, but if you could guest star on any TV show, which one would it be?
Bellamy Young: Well, you know, I wish I could’ve gotten to do ‘Friends.’ That remains the one that got away. Right now, alright, I have two answers. The actor answer is of course ‘Mad Men.’ I want to be on the ‘Mad Men.’ Everybody wants to be on the ‘Mad Men.’ You want to wear those outfits. You want to be sort of fabulously deadpan, but somehow profound.
I feel like you’d fit so well on ‘Mad Men.’
Bellamy Young: Make some calls. [Laughs] But the gleeful answer is ‘Project Runway.’ I would like to be a judge on ‘Project Runway,’ just by the runway and watch that all happen and have something cogent to say at the critique. I would love it.
Scandal airs on Thursdays at 10pm on ABC.
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