Michelle Obama and Bellamy Young had a lot of fat to chew over when they met earlier this year.
Young, who’s played Scandal’s strong-willed and eloquent First Lady Mellie Grant since the show began in 2012, found herself being confronted by the real First Lady, to discuss the finale of the third series, which has already aired in the United States.
“It was an utterly surreal moment,” the actress says of meeting Mrs Obama, after she was invited alongside her Scandal co-star Tony Goldwyn, who plays President Fitzgerald Grant in the series, to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner back in May.
“She met me with, ‘Why did you..?’,” Young says, laughing as she recalls being quizzed on her character’s storylines by the president’s wife. “I just hugged her, and then President Obama stuck his hand out to Tony and said, ‘Mr President’.
“It was an unbelievably adorable, unbelievably surreal moment, which I’m glad I have a picture of, because I was in a complete brownout.”
The series, which stars Kerry Washington as crisis manager Olivia Pope, who’s tasked with protecting the public image of the political elite, has also been a hit outside the confines of Washington, with five Emmy nominations, one Golden Globe nod and one win for Outstanding Guest Actor for Dan Bucatinsky, who played James Novak, the husband of chief of staff Cyrus Beene.
With Olivia Pope’s firm facing the biggest scandal to date and the truth behind Fitz and Mellie’s dysfunctional relationship about to emerge, it’s no wonder Scandal’s famous fans enjoy the series so much.
“I can tell you that everything just gets crazy in the third series,” explains Young. “The pace that we’ve set, the pitch that things are left at, everything we’ve built towards in the second series gets amplified and sort of nuclear, so it’s going to be even more fun.”
But while there wasn’t much time to mull over the fun and drama with Mrs Obama, 44-year-old Young did take some pointers from the First Lady’s manner.
“Our time together was brief, but just being in her presence was completely instructive, because she’s so able to be completely in her femininity and completely in her power.
“I think she’s doing this [being a First Lady] in an inspiring way. So watching her that night, her speaking and how she handled herself, was inspiring.”
Like her description of the First Lady, Young, known for her roles in Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: Miami and Dirty Sexy Money, is also tactile, warm and bright, pleasantly passing the time between interviews by chatting about weekend plans, answering any questions thrown at her with full and thoughtful replies, and wrapping up interviews with a hug.
Born in North Carolina, the actress moved to New York after studying at the prestigious Yale University, to perform on Broadway. While she’s found plenty of work since then, she’s aware that roles like Mellie, who ended the second series with her marriage in tatters, are rare.
“I’m a woman in her forties in Hollywood, so it’s almost like winning the lottery that I should have a role this wonderful,” she says. “But I also feel like the tide is turning. As stories are getting more complicated on television, people are having to realise that everyone, regardless of gender, is complicated and interesting.”
She has worked with Scandal’s writer Shonda Rhimes before, on Grey’s Anatomy.
“I’m so proud to be a part of ‘Shondaland’,” says Young. “She is the only person for actresses, she is our Shakespeare. She gives us long thoughts and glorious articulate monologues that have internal contradictions, and where you ride the wave of your own humanity, frustration, possibility, grace and flawed humanity. It’s a joy.”
Scandal, Sky Living, Thursday, 9pm