Sandra Oh Tells Kerry Washington She Wanted To Play Olivia Pope On ‘Scandal’

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Sandra Oh revealed to Kerry Washington that she was eager to play the now-iconic television character, Olivia Pope.

The Shondaland alums sat down with Variety for its “Actors on Actors” issue. During their discussion, Washington’s Scandal role came up. Prior to Washington becoming the series’ lead character, several actresses — including Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, and Connie Britton — were considered for the role. In addition to them, Oh admitted to Washington she also wanted to audition to be Olivia. Even though she had been on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Cristina Yang several seasons prior to Scandal‘s premiere, she said she thought she needed to be a part of the series at the time.

“I’ve got to tell you, I remember exactly where I was when I read that damn pilot,” Oh shared. “I was on Grey’s. We were on stage five. Someone snuck it to me, I don’t know who it was, but I got my hands on that pilot and I read it and I was just like, ‘How could I play Olivia Pope?'”

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 04: (L-R) Actresses Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, executive producer Shonda Rhimes and actress Ellen Pompeo speak onstage during the 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'Scandal,' and 'How To Get Away With Murder' panel discussion at the ABC Entertainment portion of the 2015 Summer TCA Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 4, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.
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Oh then remembered she went as far as to directly ask Scandal and Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes for the role. While Oh was on board with getting her hands on an audition, she said Rhimes completely dismissed the idea. The writer and showrunner told her that she was needed on the medical drama and it would be impossible for her to portray both characters.

“I remember going to Shonda, and it’s like, ‘How could I do this?'” Oh said. “‘What is this script? Could I do this too?’ She goes, ‘No, you’ve got to play Cristina Yang!'”

Although there was a small competition between them, Oh said she was overjoyed when she learned Washington was selected to portray Olivia. Washington went on to play the political “fixer” from 2012 to 2018. During the time, Washington was able to make history as the first Black female lead in a drama in more than 50 years.

Two years after the show’s finale, Washington shared with Variety that the experience made her strongly consider any role she would portray moving forward. After leaving Scandal, Washington went on Broadway to star in American Son, which also aired on Netflix. She also starred alongside Reese Witherspoon for the Hulu series Little Fires Everywhere.

Oh remained on Grey’s several years after Scandal premiered. She made her exit in 2015 after playing Cristina Yang for 10 seasons. The actress went on to star as another lead character in Killing Eve.