In a small room, a dozen steps from the Oval Office, the First Lady’s fielding questions about her husband’s health, his lascivious ways and their impending divorce. She’s cool, calm and collected, most likely the result of patterning herself after Jackie Kennedy and Hilary Clinton. That means you should never be caught off guard by her charms because she’s knows every political angle.
At least that’s the way Bellamy Young’s playing First Lady Mellie Grant on the ABC drama “Scandal.” The series — that has the wickedness of both a daytime drama and a political thriller — has turned up the heat in the President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) administration with an attempted assassination, crooked political deals and the impending end of the Grant marriage. Kerry Washington plays the fixer who discovers politics sometimes makes for compatible bedfellows.
As to the possible separation, Young sounds like a typical politician as she prefers to talk about the positives of the pair’s life together.
“The have a great relationship. They are great partners. They function as a team so well,” Young says during an interview on the set of the series. A replica of the Oval Office and adjoining rooms fill the soundstage and create the illusion that the First Lady’s chat is going on in D.C. rather than L.A. “They’ve accomplished so much and they are a well oiled machine in terms of family and profession.”
Young’s commitment to the character is so strong, it almost sounds like she’s talking about the President as her real husband when she speaks of how painful it is to watch him be transformed by his true love for Olivia (Washington). The big question is whether the First Lady was unaware that her husband was cheating on her or if she knew and elected to ignore the relationship because she wanted so much to be First Lady.
To create the character, Young pulled in elements of many First Ladies including Dolly Madison and Edith Bolling Wilson.
“We have been trying to balance the style of Jackie O and the substance of Hilary when Hilary was still in this position. You know, the First Lady is still called the Nation’s Hostess,” Young says. “It’s such an interesting role to be a part of because of how gender politics go with the First Lady. How it’s changed over the years. Amazing women like Hilary have been pushing on that envelope and we are almost to that point where he’s the First Lady and she’s the President.”
The idealist in Young thinks being the real First Lady would be amazing. The pragmatist in her thinks it would be an incredible weight just because of all the scrutiny.
The actress has been working long enough that she’s getting more and more scrutiny herself. Before she took on the role of the TV First Lady, the North Carolina native starred in a such series as “Criminal Minds,” “Scrubs,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” “CSI; Miami” and “Peacemakers” playing a wide range of white collar roles.
The personal and professional upheavals will continue for her character on “Scandal” but you can count on Mellie Young not going quietly.
“She’ll go down fighting,” Young says. “Everyone wants good to beat evil, but it’s a complicated relationship.”
“Scandal” airs 10 p.m. Thursdays on KFSN (Channel 30.1).