"I try to buy organic and local, support local famers. I drive a Prius, and I turn off the lights when I leave my house," says Kerry Washington, who stars in the new ABC series "Scandal" as crisis management expert Olivia Pope, a professional Washington D.C. "fixer" who steps in to do damage control on cases involving a madam, a gay Congressional Medal of Honor winner and a White House intern. And she also has a secret intimate relationship with the President of the United States (Tony Goldwyn) for whom she previously worked as communications director. That last detail sets her apart from the woman that inspired the role, real-life Beltway fixer Judy Smith, who was involved in the Iran Contra and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's drug bust cases and serves as a consultant and producer on the show.


"Washington is an exciting context for the show, because it's the nexus of power for so many different industries, but it's not a political show because we deal with crisis in all areas, as does Judy," says Washington, who relied on Smith for character insight but gives show creator Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice") credit for making her job easier by putting it all on the page. "Shonda writes real people, people who are three‑dimensional, fully realized human beings and that's a joy for an actor," she raves. "I really love playing a complicated woman. But I am always looking for the good in the character."


The show is fast-paced as is the production schedule, requiring Washington to take good care of herself to keep her stamina up. "I drink a lot of water, eat right and exercise in the few hours that I have off," she says, noting that shooting ten pages of dialogue per day is "such a different level of intensity" than she had making movies like "Ray" and "For Colored Girls." She's grateful to be part of an ensemble that includes Henry Ian Cusick ("Lost") and Columbus Short ("Stomp the Yard"), likening it to "being on a great basketball team. Someone's always tossing the ball and assisting. We want to give to each other so much and that sustains us too, when it's three in the morning and we look across the table and you see your fellow actor doing amazing work. It inspires you to push harder. "


"Scandal" premieres April 5 on ABC.


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