It's virtually impossible to imagine ABC's hit show Scandal being led by anybody other than the indomitable Kerry Washington. She brings an unparalleled fierceness to Olivia Pope that we're not sure any other actress could put into the character. It turns out, though, that Washington wasn't ABC's first first choice to play the show's lead gladiator. The top execs at the company were looking at another well known television actress to play Olivia. Connie Britton, who had risen to prominence as Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, was ABC's top choice for the role. Britton had just wrapped on Friday Night Lights when Scandal was being cast.
ABC was looking at a long list of white actresses to play Olivia Pope without realizing that creator Shonda Rhimes wrote the part for a black woman. "I didn't know that there hadn't been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years," Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter. She received a call from somebody when the show was picked up for pilot season that said "'This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.'" Rhimes simply replied: "It would be, except Olivia Pope is black."
What many people may not realize is that Olivia Pope is based on a real person. Judy Smith, a real-life Washington D.C. "fixer", is the inspiration behind the character. Smith, like Olivia Pope, is black. Rhimes felt strongly that this important part of Judy and Olivia's identities not be changed. Britton is an enormously talented actress, but we honestly can't picture anybody besides Washington bringing this character to life. It's clear that this situation got handled like a true gladiator. You go, Shonda Rhimes!