Before Kerry Washington donned Olivia Pope’s white hat, ABC pushed for Connie Britton to be Washington D.C.’s leading fixer. In an oral history gathered by The Hollywood Reporter, Shonda Rhimes recalled Scandal’s most important casting decision: picking Pope. Rhimes said she felt certain that Olivia was a black woman, especially since the character was inspired by real-life D.C. crisis fixer Judy Smith. “Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness,” Rhimes said. “I didn’t know that there hadn’t been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years. When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, ‘This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.’ I said, ‘It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.’” ABC also suggested Britton: “The network was reading us their top choices,” casting director Linda Lowey said, “and it was Connie and all white women. I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, ‘We’re going to have to redo this list.’” After auditioning Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose, they hired Kerry Washington. The rest is history, but Washington agreed that the Nashville star would have been a sensible choice: “This would have been a great role for Connie Britton!” she said.
Connie Britton. Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images