PASADENA, Calif. – Kerry Washington plays three roles in Washington, D.C. these days. First she stars as Olivia Pope on ABC's "Scandal"; then there is her real-life work as a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities; and, now, she plays Anita Hill, the woman who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during the hearings for his Supreme Court nomination, in the upcoming HBO series "Confirmation."
"It was exciting for me," Washington says of the opportunity to play a character other than Olivia Pope. "I hadn't done a feature since 'Django' because in the hiatus before this one, I had a baby, and the one before that I got married, so I had been busy producing other things."
Since "Confirmation" deals with the 1991 sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas (Wendall Pierce), he is the true star of the series, but that was okay with Washington, who also got an executive producer credit on the project.
"It was really wonderful to be able to step into another set of shoes literally and figuratively," she says. "Anita is so different from Olivia in a lot of ways, so that was fun for me to be another woman in Washington, but in a very different way, with a very different relationship to that town and how it works."
Of course, the end result of the trial was that Clarence Thomas did get his confirmation to the Supreme Court, but, even so, Hill's coming forward and testifying did affect change in the way victims' rights are dealt with today.
"I think I'm really inspired by the difference that a person can make in Washington and the kind of cultural shift that happened after the events that take place in our film," Washington told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour. "I think it's really inspiring to think about how much changed, how we were all transformed by these events in terms of our language changing around sexual harassment, around victims’ rights, around how we think about the workplace, how we think about women, how we think about race, how we think about power."
Washington was around 14 years old when the hearings took place, so she says her understanding of the events came through the lens of her parents' eyes – and they didn't necessarily agree.
"My mother was an academic, who had very passionate feelings about it as a woman of color," says Washington, who met with Anita Hill prior to filming. "My dad had very passionate feelings about it as a black man. And I was immersed in how complicated and how complex the issues were from a very young age. It always stuck with me how passionate both of my parents were and how differently they looked at the situation."
"Confirmation" will reflect the complexity of the issue when it premieres in April, but first, "Scandal" will return with new episodes on Thursday, Feb. 11. The story will pick up six months after the events of the winter finale in which Olivia Pope had an abortion, broke up with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), moved out of the White House, and replaced the stained sofa in her apartment.
"There's a lot I don't know, but I will say that the winter finale was intense," says Washington about what is to come. "[The abortion] was a very difficult decision for Olivia and it changes her. That moment was a realization of who she is and about what she wants. We will see how that manifests."