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Scandal’s Darby Stanchfield on Abby’s Sexier Look, Her Future With David, and Her Taste for Erotica

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty

Do Abby and David Rosen stand a chance with Abby’s ex now on the loose? It’s one of the big questions left hanging at the end of tonight’s Scandal. Even Darby Stanchfield, who plays Abby and who you might recognize from her previous work as the mom of creepy Glen on Mad Men, would love to know. She’s hopeful that it won’t spell the end of Dabby (as Kerry Washington has christened the on-again-off-again couple), not now that she’s sporting bigger hair and sexy clothes. “It can’t all be for nothing!” she laughs. In a recent interview with Vulture, Stanchfield talked about the consequences of playing the most outspoken member of Olivia’s team, and how Abby gets involved with Lisa Kudrow’s Josie Marcus.

Abby’s ex-husband was at the White House Correspondents dinner — twist!
Yup. It’s another bump in the road for Abby and David. They’re trying to do normal, and she’s even pulling this romantic move, trying to surprise him by dressing up. But then, for obvious reasons, she’s terrified to see her ex-husband again and doesn’t make it.

Is the ex back with an agenda?
Umm, I don’t know yet. Honest. It’s just a tease for what may come. One of our camera guys who runs the @ScandalTrivia Twitter account was like, “What would be good Scandal trivia for Abby? How about a photo of your ex-husband?” They had a driver’s license photo of him in season one when Cyrus was digging up dirt on all the gladiators, remember? But then one of the writers was like, “No, no. You don’t want to put out that photo of him because we could be seeing him again,” and I don’t think he’s been cast.

Do you play along?
I totally play along. He does it every Thursday. Here’s today’s question: “What floor of its building is Olivia Pope & Assoc. located on?”

Uh, is it four?
I don’t know! The answer hasn’t come out yet [laughs]. This can be a confusing show to work on. I keep my scripts very close at hand because sometimes I’ll be shooting a scene and I won’t remember when I last saw some character or what my point of view on something was two episodes ago. For instance, when the news came out about Olivia sleeping with Fitz, we [the gladiators] had to have this whole conversation about who knew what when. I keep waiting for Abby to be judgmental and call her a whore.

Maybe she’s loosened up this season. Her look certainly has. She’s wearing more eyeliner, her hair’s been zhuzhed.
I’m wearing vintage Chanel belts, too.

What’s the story behind the makeover?
Lyn Paolo, the Scandal stylist, really wanted to up the fashion, and we started to talk about what that would mean for Abby. Abby’s trying to become a normal, balanced woman in her personal life, and that means she’s spending more time in front of the mirror. I remember we talked to [series boss] Shonda Rhimes about playing with her look and she agreed I was due for a change.

What did Shonda want specifically?
Oh, she didn’t tell us anything. Lyn and I kind of came up with it. Just more attention to her hair, adding beautiful accessories. I didn’t really know what the makeover would mean for Abby until I read it. We find out story as we get the scripts. But I know Shonda thinks about these characters like they’re real people. I’ve had conversations with her before where she’ll tell me, for example, what Abby reads.

What does Abby read?
Anaïs Nin, who wrote very high-brow erotica. I asked Shonda one time, “Does she read Fifty Shades of Grey? Would that be her kind of book?” And she went, “Oh no, she reads this.”

She keeps it classy.
Of course. Shonda will give you tidbits, but we really fill in our own backstory and intentions until a storyline is given to us. It works somehow. Shonda gave a hint about her last year. She said Abby would begin to deal with “the betrayal.” I never knew what that meant — I still don’t totally know what that means!

So going back to what you said before, why do you think Abby hasn’t called Olivia a whore yet?
I think maybe Abby’s loyalty and friendship with Olivia has taken over. There’s a great scene coming up where Abby attempts to comfort Olivia. It’s pretty awkward. They’re not touchy-feely girls. Abby approaches her like a wounded animal, “I’m going to hug you now. Don’t leave,” and Olivia doesn’t know what to do with it. So that’s probably why she hasn’t called Olivia a whore. She’s trying not to be such a weirdo. She’s growing up. It goes with the makeover.

When Oprah did a special on the show last year, I remember you went up to her when the credits were rolling and said, “Do you hate me, too?”
[Laughs] At the time, and this was back in season two, Abby was really questioning Olivia, she was on her about everything, going behind her back, working with David Rosen and not telling Olivia about it. Listen, the Scandal fans are very, very loyal to Olivia Pope and Olivia Pope alone. I was getting a lot of negative tweets. Even on the street, there were a couple of times where people would come up to me like, “Abby? Yeah, you need to stop questioning Olivia so much and stop sleeping with that lawyer guy. It’s out of control. You need to rein it in.” So I was teasing Oprah, but I was also like, Well, Oprah’s hooked on the show, too. What does she think about me? She gave me a huge hug and was like, “It’s all acting. I think you’re doing a great job.”

Olivia might go work for Josie Marcus, who potentially could be running against Fitz. What does Abby think about it?
You heard in the pilot that Abby hates Republicans, right? She’s a feminist. Josie is a Democrat, she’s a woman, she’s running for president. Oh snaps! There is no one Abby would love to see more in office. So that’s all you need to know. It’s going to be fun for Abby to try and help get her elected. She’s especially invested.

When you were last on Mad Men, playing the mom of Glen Bishop, he was still so young and creepy.   
Oh my gosh. Hasn’t he grown up so fast? It’s unbelievable. Helen Bishop was such a horrible mother. She was never there.

He turned out okay though. Years later, he’s still a good friend to Sally.
I love it because people still approach me like I’m really his mom. Like, “Glen Bishop, man.” That was Marten’s first acting job. He was so sweet. He was nothing like Glen.

Scandal’s Darby Stanchfield on Abby’s New Look