Nearly a week after "Scandal" First Lady Mellie Grant got sloshed and told off her philandering husband, fans still are buzzing about "Drunk Mellie."
Bellamy Young is happy to hear it, but she was initially terrified about delivering the moonshine-fueled monologue on the ABC hit.
"I worried so much about that scene," Young told me during a recent phone interview. "I got that speech and I got scared, 'cause acting drunk can go so wrong. But my Lord, the journey in that speech—the emotional topography—it just took work."
She immediately began working on the scene—"pestering" her acting coach as she put it—and rehearsing the words, the emotions and the physicality of being drunk.
"You just have to be responsible with the opportunity at hand, right?" she said. "You get handed that speech and you work your hardest to give it everything it deserves. And you hope that you can embody the story that it has embedded, 'cause the story was so complicated and so real for so many of us.
"It was just really exciting to do the work on the words and then to show up and stare at Tony and just hope that something poured out."
Something spectacular poured out. As you can see in the clip below, Young further proved she should be at the top of everyone's Emmy nominations list next year. In the three-minute scene in which Mellie is celebrating the survival of President Fitzgerald Grant's (Tony Goldwyn) love, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), she goes from giddy and giggly to cold and calculating, but still manages to reveals just a bit of Mellie's pain and pragmatism. It was heartbreaking and harrowing.
Things don't get much easier for Mellie in this week's episode, "Say Hello to My Little Friend," debuting at 9 p.m. CT Oct. 24 on ABC.
Lisa Kudrow begins her recurring role as Josephine Marcus, a Democratic Congresswoman who is critical of Fitz. In a teaser for the episode at the bottom of this story, Marcus suggests during a TV appearance that the sex scandal-plagued president "tame his cobra." Marcus also lock horns with Mellie.
"There will be a kerfuffle," Young teased. "Mellie will make a beautiful mess, as is her amazing talent to do. And it will be Lisa who will hold the power cards there."
Young couldn't give details about the mess Mellie gets into, but said it will be "personal and public and present." Maybe she'll unleash Drunk Mellie on Marcus.
"Lisa's great in this part," Young added.
Young and I talked more about the Drunk Mellie moments in "Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington," Mellie's state of mind and where things are going to go in the "war" against Fitz.
You were incredible in the episode.
Oh my God, thank you so much.
Talk about pulling focus away from everyone else. I was like, "Kerry Washington, who's that?"
No. Hardly. She was amazing last night, too. That scene with her and Guillermo at the end, ... they ripped my heart out. And Cynthia Stevenson too, I sprouted tears. She broke me down. It was a good episode, right? When we got that script I was like, what!? And the episode did not disappoint. It was amazing.
You guys have three episodes worth of stuff in each episode.
I just came from a table read for 309, and literally I feel like I have lived another year of my life. That one episode—I don't even know how to tell you Curt—if I could tell you they would find me and shoot me. But no, I don't know how they do it. I genuinely don't know how they get so much stuff.
It's so hyperbolized in some degree because it's so adrenalized. But they also root it in some real relationships, real conflicts, real moral ambiguity and it really resonates. It's terrifying; it's amazing. I don't know how they do it. That is not a gift I have, the writing.
How does one play drunk?
One runs immediately to one's coach and says, "Help me not over act." Because pretending to die and pretending to be drunk are such traps as an actor. So for us it was really grounding it. We never see Mellie unguarded. You never see a vulnerable Mellie, you never see an open Mellie, you never see a softness, you never see Mellie's little underbelly.
I wanted to take off—at least I got one pearl earring off. I've got my necklace off. I wanted to armor, but for that to be the opening. And so we start from there with just a looseness in your body. Like feeling—that table just felt so good. You know how you drink a little bit and you just feel things differently and your speech is a little slower?
It was really getting the relaxation in my body, that and the moonshine in the glass. I mean obviously I'm method, Curt. I'm gonna be drinking. Just kidding.
You had a little hooch, huh?
[Laughs.] A little hooch. I don't play.
From your real North Carolina relatives.
Exactly. [Laughs.] My real Pappy.
So tell me about filming that scene.
My job is made so easy because I—as an actor your whole performance is just coming out of the other person, right? And I get to live in Tony Goldwyn's eyes. And he is allergic to lying and he's the most honest actor. So he keeps me so honest. And Jeff [Perry], the other, I mean Jeff is a national treasure. I mean Jeff created Steppenwolf [Theatre Company]. So the two guys, the two partners that I spend the most time with do a lot of my work for me 'cause I live in them.
I remember in that scene I wanted it to be like I couldn't quite see him, like that room might be swimming. So, you know how you really have to focus on someone when you're trying to pretend to not be drunk? So that scene, more than ever, I just lived in Tony's eyes and on that table. That was my whole world. His face and that table and then seeing that cross, seeing Olivia up on that cross. So it all just had like an underwater fluidity. It was happening sort of in slow motion and I was just really trying to keep with the visions as they were in front of me.
I kind of feel like Mellie still loves Fitz.
Oh yeah, devotedly. I think it is her greatest flaw how much she loves him. She loves him, but it's that love that's almost curled in on itself. Like one of Hugh Hefner's fingernails kind of thing, you know what I mean? It's like all twisty and it's got, at this point, as much hate and resentment as it does love and adoration. But it's all passion, it's complete passion.
But part of me thinks that was a turning point in her feelings toward him, like maybe she's finally said, "OK, I'm over it. I don't love him anymore."
Yeah, I mean your head can say that all day long, you know? And I think her head has said that frequently, but it's just at the end of the day you can't outthink your heart. And if you could Mellie would have been the first, I really think she would of. I mean she's a smart lady, so capable. But the heart wants what the heart wants and she still loves him.
Maybe Fitz has incredible pheromones. It is hard to say because apparently he inspires unwavering devotion in many women. But yeah, Mellie loves him and she hates how much she loves him.
And she hates to show him too, right?
And she hates to give him anything 'cause there's so much resentment there. I think there again that's something that is so relatable ... We're just meeting them in one point in their relationship. And you get in these points where you're really keeping score. And any amount of emotion or response or softness or kindness or thoughtfulness—anything—seems like a loss or a weakness. And definitely that's where they are right now. She's just so angry. But again, that anger comes back on herself 'cause she cannot stop herself from loving him.
Was there any one line in that speech that was your key to the whole thing?
Golly. There wasn't. I'm gonna tell you that table was my key. Really that table kept me so grounded, like with the different takes and whatever. I was happy not standing. I didn't want to stand and deliver a diatribe. It felt so nice to be in that chair and like have my shoes off and have my chest down on that table. It was just a very different physicality. And so I really tucked into that.
I'm trying to think. Let me think through, if I can even remember. 'Cause, you know, I had not seen it until last night. And to try to live tweet and watch the show full of people that you love with all your heart, is hard work, much less to watch yourself, which is hard work on any day. ...
The one that stands out looking back is, "I'm spectacular, but even I cannot compete with religious fervor." I mean she's not blaming herself or giving up on; she's not fooling herself into thinking she's not enough. She's just sadly faced with the truth that what they have is different than what Fitz and she have. It's more real, it's more true, it's more immortal, if you will.
Where does this leave her going forward? Because I feel like this was a big moment. Am I crazy?
Yeah, no, I feel like you do. It's sort of like when that big chunk, that big ice flow breaks off of the glacier ... I don't mind actually if we use the iceberg as a metaphor for Mellie; I feel like this might be the first crack, that horrible, echoing crack that sounds like a keen, like a whale when the glacier starts to melt, when the iceberg starts to melt. I definitely think you're right about that.
And we're always in a crucible. Like the White House is fancy prison, but now we're staring down the barrel of reelection. So more than ever she's trying to feel her way toward what compromises she can stomach, you know? OK, he doesn't love me but will he be my husband? OK, can I get partnership from him if I give up needing intimacy? Can I stomach this in real life? Can I stand beside him and campaign with him?
There's ever shifting ground of how much she can sacrifice herself, compromise herself. And I think every day she wakes up and thought she figured it out, and then that day she's sick to her stomach by the decision she made the day before.
She declares not necessarily her plan, but she fires a warning shot at him. Oliva is his Achilles' heel, Mellie says.
Exactly. And Mellie, bless her, when she barks she usually bites. She might bite and hit air 'cause she's not got the best aim, but she's not one to sound the alarm and not follow through.
I mean this in the most loving way because I do love her, but she's one tough bitch.
[Laughs.] She is. She's no joke. She is no joke. And the best part is she doesn't care what you think, you know what I'm saying? She's like yup, that's right.
The other thing that I noticed was that Fitz was totally transfixed by her last night while she was giving that speech.
He was, cute little Tony.
He was just totally into it to it seemed like.
Well, Drunk Mellie is fun Mellie. I'm sure he could see a little bit of what they used to have in that. Mellie used to be fun. Mellie's not always been this person. You'll see that in 307.
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