Actress Kerry Washington is hitting her prime. With two Emmy nominations under her belt, the Scandal star not only has graced countless magazine covers but also uses her social media clout to inspire political and social change. Lately, she has taken on a bigger role behind the camera, serving as executive producer of the HBO film Confirmation, in which she plays Anita Hill, the woman who testified against Clarence Thomas in his Supreme Court hearing in 1991.
Although Kerry brings a fierceness to Olivia Pope’s character in Scandal, she reveals that she didn’t always feel as confident offscreen. “I think for most of the beginning of my life,” Kerry says, “I was fighting the idea that I was not enough, or that I had to be fixed.”
In this intimate SuperSoul Session Q&A, Kerry opens up to Oprah about becoming television’s most powerful leading lady.
Before Scandal, Kerry says, she was already carving a niche for herself on the big screen. She played important parts in movies like Ray, The Last King of Scotland and Save the Last Dance. Then, Shonda Rhimes came calling. Of course, the trajectory of Kerry’s life changed. “It just opened the doors for me,” she says.
When Kerry set out to play that “powerful, fully embodied, confident woman,” as Oprah puts it, she never could have predicted that Olivia Pope would become a cultural icon. “How it was received was unimaginable,” she says.
People fell in love with Kerry’s Olivia Pope—a groundbreaking, strong African-American female lead. Nevertheless, Kerry says, she struggled to get roles early in her career because she fell short of the Hollywood ideal. “In the beginning of my career, I was often told that I had to fix things to be successful,” she says. “You know, fix your teeth or wear your hair differently or dress differently, or, well, ‘She’s too ethnic,’ or, ‘She’s not.’ ‘She doesn’t speak black enough.’ … There were a million reasons why I wasn’t making it in the beginning of my career.”
Through it all, Kerry remained authentic to herself and refused to give in to other people’s expectations of what she should be or look like. “I’ve always been me, and I didn’t really conform. I didn’t really change those things that people told me I had to change, so when my career has been able to unfold, I felt like it was because I was being myself.”
Here, Kerry candidly shares the lessons she has learned throughout her rise to fame.