Kerry Washington’s Climb to Superstardom

Actress Kerry Washington, star of ABC's new drama, "Scandal," is on a career upsurge. Photo Credit:ABC/DANNY FELD

Pasadena, CA-Kerry Washington is doing big things. The past decade has seen Washington grow and solidified herself as one of the busiest and best young actresses in Hollywood today. She is one of the hottest and more gifted thespians on the scene. Her impressive body of work includes head-turning roles in “Ray,” “For Colored Girls,” “Night Catches Us” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

Her steady work and stunning roles performances have garnered acclaimed praise. It has also led to Washington being honored with the Vanguard Award by Essence, considered to be the leading magazine that specializes in celebrating African American women.

The publication will pay homage to Washington, along with Pam Grier, Octavia Spender (The Help), Paula Patton (Jumping the Broom) and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes at its 5th annual ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, which honors African American women, perceived to be game-changers in the entertainment industry.

Washington, the lead star of ABC’s upcoming drama series,” Scandal,” is the headliner of this celebratory gala.

“Black women actors, writers, directors and producers still lack diverse opportunities in Hollywood and, unfortunately, are often overlooked during awards season,” commented ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Constance White. “The ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon exists to provide a fitting tribute to the brilliant talent and accomplishments of African-American trailblazers like Kerry, Pam, Paula, Octavia and Shonda and celebrate their collective work as an inspiration for generations to come.”

This is just one accolade of many directed Washington’s way. And more than likely there will be more. Besides her physically-demanding gig in “Scandal,” Washington has secured a major role in the much-anticipated Quentin Tarantino film, “Django Unchained.” Like a burning comet, shooting brightly in the sky, Washington is lighting up Hollywood with her immense talents.

No role seems to be too far-fetched and too difficult to tackle for one of the most glamorous women in the entertainment industry. Washington can easily slip in to a role as a seductive, erotic character as she did in “She Hate Me” to the cool, calculating, and always a step ahead-of-the-game lawyer she plays in “Scandal.”

In fact, Washington is more than just a pretty face. Never mind that she is drop-dead gorgeous with a killer smile to boot, Washington has shown throughout her career she’s got Grade A acting chops. Her ability to transform herself from one demanding role to another is perhaps second to none in the business.

Sure, there may be more celebrated actresses in the industry, but people shouldn’t sleep on the richly talented and versatile Washington. She is an Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy winner waiting to happen. It’s just a matter of time before Washington adds those titles to her glowing resume.  Her theatrical works seems to be all over the map since her first breakthrough role in “Save the Last Dance” in 2001.

Washington is all business as Olivia Pope in ABC's "Scandal." (ABC/CRAIG SJODIN)

There doesn’t appear to be a role out there that the Bronx, New York-born Washington can’t handle. For now, Washington is tackling perhaps the most gratifying role she’s ever taken as the lead character in “Scandal.” On the show, which debuts in April, Washington plays the fictional role Olivia Pope, a shadowy, yet powerful Washington D.C., “fix-it” specialist, operating in crisis management to some of the city’s top power brokers.

“One of the things that’s so cool about crisis management is that you never know what’s going to walk into your door,” Washington said at Disney/ABC’s 2012 Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, California. “So setting the show in Washington, D.C., is exciting because D.C. is the nexus of power for so many different industries and so many different fields.

“But from show to show who walks in our office is completely unpredictable, whether it’s somebody in the military, whether it’s a politician, whether it’s somebody in the corporate world, whether it’s somebody in the labor movement, whether it’s a celebrity, whether it’s a sports figure.  I mean, you just ?? you never know who is going to walk in the door.  So Washington is an exciting context for the show, but it’s not a political show because we deal with crisis in all areas.”

As the former communications director to the president of the United States, Washington’s character is in an endless cycle of putting out professional and personal fires, and often finds herself and her staff in the thick of Washington drama. Her role on the show may catch some fans off guard with the projected hard-nosed tenacity Washington brings to Olivia Pope, her on-screen character.

Washington is satisfied she plays a much different character in “Scandal” than she has had in the past. One reason for that is that she doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a one-dimensional actress.

“I’ve tried really hard in my career to not always be the same kind of woman,” Washington said. “I’ve tried to play women from different spectrums of the social economics realities. I think that the most important thing is that women, people of color, feel like they’re seen in a range of stories, being represented. I don’t always want to be a strong, smart woman. As a people, we are more complicated than that. I really try to play lots of different kinds of women.”

In all her on-screen roles, Washington said that the common denominator is that they are all bound together by the same thread.

“A big part of what I try to do in my work is to bring full, three-dimensional humanity to my characters, to turn them from people you’re thinking about, some people who you’re forced to grapple with their existence in the world,” Washington said. “I think it’s important to bring humanity to somebody who is weak and unempowered and insecure as it is to bring humanity to somebody who is powerful and smart and in control of their lives.”

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