On ABC’s Scandal, First Lady Mellie Grant is a force of nature. She’s unapologetically ambitious and capable of putting the President of the United States in his place with spot-on rants. It’s a tough order for anyone, but a perfect fit for Bellamy Young, who has a history of playing strong women. The charismatic, affable actress – the total opposite of her alter-ego – recently spoke with Digital Airwaves about playing the most powerful woman in America.
“I am the luckiest girl in the world,” she said, “because my part in the pilot was two sentences long. The only thing I knew when I auditioned was that it was the best script I’d read that pilot season. They already had Kerry [Washington] and Tony [Goldwyn], who I’d loved forever. I had no idea how it would bloom and how they would start to write for Mellie.
“The First Lady is such a fascinating office to hold,” she continued. “You’re not elected, but it’s very much official. You can see the latitude of power of that office. So I knew it would be fascinating.”
Mellie has proven to be the most surprising character on Scandal, which is now in its second season; while the show very much orbits around the characters of Olivia Pope (played by Washington) and President Fitzgerald Grant (played by Goldwyn), Mellie is far from just the other woman in the love triangle. She’s confronted her husband over his infidelity, is expecting their first child, and a recent reveal showed her in an after-hours meeting with a group of high-powered people including Olivia.
Young played another political spouse as Ellen Darling on another ABC series, Dirty Sexy Money, but Scandal has proven to be an even bigger stage for her talent. Her work in the role has garnered high praise from her co-workers – in our interview at the end of last season, asked about her favorite moment from the season finale, Washington said “I’m so excited for people to see the work of both Bellamy Young and Matt Letscher. I think one of the really great things about doing a show about crisis management is the stakes are so high that you really get to see actors flex their muscles. Week to week you get these stellar performances, these awesome moments from actors and these two just blew me away.”
Asked what it’s like to work with Washington and her on-screen spouse Goldwyn, Young said that “It’s incredible. There’s never been a better number one on the call sheet in the history of time than Kerry. She is tireless in her generosity on screen and off. She’s always there to support us. The tiniest turn of a crew member’s ankle or something happens in a scene, she sees it all and she honors it. She’s also been incredible personally because I’ve had a lot to learn. I’ve never been a series regular. There’s been a big learning curve and she’s been just so kind to share her big brain and her giant heart with me.
“And Tony…last year it made me so nervous becaue he directed me on Dirty Sexy Money. I loved him as an actor forever, but when he directed me, you get to know just how smart he is and how much attention he’s paying to everything. So it was a little daunting to rise to the opportunity of playing his partner. There has yet to be anything as rewarding as getting to play Tony Goldwyn’s wife on screen.”
What is it like for Young to portray the most powerful woman in the United States? “It’s a lot of fun to just say to people, proudly, ‘I get to play the First Lady.’ It’s just fun to say,” she explained with a laugh.
“But then to get to play a woman who is so fully realized in so many directions…she is flawed and driven and loving and loyal and backstabbing. She’s so many things. It sort of blows my mind, every script we get. Each script is a revelation. She’s always up to something.”
So far in season two, ‘something’ has included Mellie referring to her unborn child as ‘America’s baby,’ publicly forcing her husband’s political hand in the case of a murdered teenage girl, and warning that she’ll kill him if he takes up with Olivia again. She is not a quiet character, even if sometimes she looks a little unhinged.
“You look forward to it because I would never pull that stuff in my real life,” explained Young about Mellie’s more intense moments. “It’s sort of hilarious fun to live for seventeen hours a day as this sort of ‘my way or the highway’ kind of woman.”
Scandal is well known for its plot twists, like those secret meetings or the real identity of Quinn Perkins, and Young enjoys being kept guessing. “I love being surprised,” she said. “I don’t have the gift of a writer’s mind; I can’t craft story like our amazing team of writers can.
“Every time we get a script we’re on email or text messaging,” she continued. “It’s such a giant gift in our day. We have table reads that are like parties. And on Thursday nights we tweet the shows so we sort of get to relive them. You get to sort of experience it again. It’s a rare gift to get words this good.”
Given the show’s many secrets, there’s very little she can say about what’s ahead, but she does hint that there’s another flashback episode on the way in season two. “I am so excited about that episode,” she said. “Everything that’s happening in the present becomes so much more resonant.”
In addition to her work on Scandal, Young currently has a recurring role as Beth Clemmons, the love interest of Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) on CBS’ hit series Criminal Minds, but for those looking to check out even more of her resume, “You can see me in a variety of things,” she explained. “I did love Dirty Sexy Money quite a lot. I loved my tenure at Scrubs quite a lot. ER might have been my favorite guest star thing. We Were Soldiers meant a lot to me. I got to meet Catherine Metsker, who’s my character in the movie.” In addition to acting, she also executive produced the David Arquette film The Cottage.
If you still don’t believe she’s definitely not her character, Young also takes some time to talk about helping those in need. “I’d just say everybody think about adoption, people and animals,” she says. Complimentary of her colleagues, passionate about extending a helping hand, Bellamy Young could not be farther removed from her television alter-ego.
Which makes it all the more impressive that when the cameras are rolling, she’s the last person you want to cross. Mellie Grant is a character you can’t take your eyes off of, and you can chalk that up to the actress who plays her.
You can keep up with Bellamy Young on Twitter (@BellamyYoung). Scandal continues tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on ABC.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit Digital Airwaves and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.