Scandal’s Olivia Pope and President Grant have one of the most contentious love affairs on television. Is this a great love story, or are they torturing each other? Are they destined for greatness, or are they both going to end up emotionally vacant husks? What’s going to happen to them in season four — which begins next Thursday night at 9 p.m. — now that Olivia has run away? I asked Tony Goldwyn about their complicated attraction, that closet scene, and whether or not Olivia and Fitz will get a happy ending.
What are the top three rides on the Olivia and Fitz emotional roller coaster? Their relationship is interesting, but obviously complicated.
Did you say the top three rides on the Olivia and Fitz emotional roller coaster? [Laughs.] I guess I feel like Liv and Fitz are the victims of circumstance. Their situation is impossible. I think from Fitz’s perspective, it’s absolutely a sustainable relationship if Olivia would just accept that and commit, but for various reasons, she runs for the hills every time that comes to pass.
Unless he kidnaps her and has her helicoptered to a house that he built for her.
And that didn’t even work.
Do you think their relationship is sustainable?
This is one of those relationships that seems like an addiction to chaos. But I can’t play this character and think that, because every time Fitz and Olivia are in each other’s orbit there’s this unavoidable magnetic pull between them, and that’s just the way it is. I put a lot of stock in their attraction being way beyond a sexual attraction, and it’s a pretty rare thing.
But they still can’t seem to make it work. It’s an interesting tension, and we don’t usually see this kind of nuanced relationship on TV.
That’s right. The Olivia and Fitz relationship is extreme, but what Shonda does very, very well is create outrageous, extreme situations that are kind of a mirror for real life. The truth is that every single relationship is very complex and full of contradictions; as you get into a more mature relationship, you realize that the contrasts are part of the fabric of every substantive relationship. I’ve learned that after almost 30 years of marriage, and that’s true of Fitz and Olivia.
Olivia and Fitz’s relationship also has a lot of letting go and coming back together, sometimes violently, and then they find a commonality or tenderness in their love that brings them back together.
Yeah! You’re absolutely right. If you look at where season three concludes, yet again Fitz is the one who keeps insisting that the thing happen, which also, parenthetically, defies the cliché. People give me a lot of shit, saying, “You’re such a bad guy!” or that I’m the randy president, but the truth of it is that Fitz is the one who is trying to leave his marriage in an organized way, and he has again and again committed to Olivia. It always amuses me that people just sort of cling to the cliché that he’s the philanderer, poor Olivia, poor Mellie. I’m like, “Okay, whatever.” At the end of season three, he says we’re going to be together and have babies and that’s just how it’s going to be — and then she tells him about Mellie’s rape. Fitz has to take care of his wife. He and Olivia have this phone call and they obviously both agree that he cannot leave Mellie right now, so they have to wait. And Olivia is like, “I know, I wouldn’t love you if you did.” But again, it ain’t Fitz that pulls away! It’s Olivia that RUNS away! Every season, at the end, Olivia has run away. Why people blame me, I don’t know. [Laughs.]
But is his relationship with Mellie honorable when he still has one foot out the door most of the time?
Well, then you have this very interesting problem. Do you honor what is personally gratifying to you, or do you honor your responsibility you’ve made? It’s easy to make a snap decision, for people to say, “Oh, you need to find your truth and be your truth,” or “You need to suck it up and do your duty.” So what do you do?
That’s part of their emotional roller coaster, like the scene in the rose garden where she spits out that comment about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. That was a defining moment for them, because Fitz finally just says it, that he belongs to her.
You know, he calls her out. And calls her on her hypocrisy. Her accusation is pretty outrageous, so Fitz is saying “you are not a victim” here, and as powerful and dynamic and brilliant and self-realized as Olivia Pope is, she often takes the victim’s role. I think that’s why Fitz is really throwing down in that scene.
There’s also the scene where Olivia tells Fitz she’s choosing Jake, and it comes on the heels of her finding out that Fitz murdered her mentor with his bare hands.
But is choosing Jake a cop-out move? Her connection to Jake is kind of an escape hatch. I don’t think Olivia loves Jake. She does, in a way. And Jake ain’t no boy scout either — let’s be clear. [Laughs.]
The men she’s attracted to are very complicated.
Fitz is not a wonderful human being and he does a good job of making Jake look very attractive, but the guy did shoot James in the face.
I think the big thing about their relationship, and again, an extreme version of reality, is that they acknowledge and forgive each other’s failings. Olivia rigged the election and Fitz rejected her, but he ultimately came around. Whatever their opinions or judgments are of each other, it doesn’t diminish the fact that these two people know each other on some deep level.
No one will forgive me if I don’t ask you about the closet scene.
I think they have an extraordinary sexual connection that’s fueled by the friction and conflict. There’s a sort of rebound that creates a lot of energy; like, post-fight sex is always hot. But their sexual relationship is an extension about the degree to which they connect as human beings. She might have great sex with Jake — I don’t like to think about that! — but it’s different from what she and Fitz have. When you know someone so well, and you’re connected to them on such a deep level, it’s very unique.
There are things they can’t say or talk about if they want to stay together, and sex is where they act it all out.
Yeah! The anger was only expressed in that one scene, but that wasn’t his intention. My favorite scene is the one in Vermont, where again he calls her out, challenges her, and shows her — shows her — how he feels about her. And again, it’s a point where they come together.
Fitz is a complicated man.
Yes, he is.