NEW YORK — Getting summoned into a room with President Fitzgerald Grant is an order the more than 8 million viewers of “Scandal” would kill for — Huck-style, if needed.
In this case, reality set in pretty quick.
“Care for some almonds? Or maybe chocolate-covered blueberries?” Tony Goldwyn, in a suede suit jacket and jeans (no Eisenhower pin or presidential tie in sight), asks late Monday night in a SoHo production studio.
Goldwyn, of course, portrays the head of state in Shonda Rhimes’ hit ABC series “Scandal.” He is in town for the network’s upfront presentation scheduled Tuesday afternoon in New York — where his show will undoubtedly be showered with praise for causing chaos on Twitter.
The 53-year-old actor until now was probably best known for being the dude that had Sam Wheat killed in 1990’s “Ghost” — because, gosh, that was such a heinous act! While he went on to play equally memorable roles, like an interior designer with HIV on “Designing Women, and took up directing, these days he’s best known as the unhappily married president (a.k.a. “Fitz”), whose affair with fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) weirdly generates swoons.
In anticipation of the show’s second season finale, which airs Thursday, we spoke to Goldwyn about what can be expected, remedies for dealing with the show’s summer hiatus, and — because we still can’t let it go — his involvement in having Sam Wheat killed.
Things got handled.
Look, I know you have to relive this a lot, but really: How could you have even considered putting Sam Wheat in a harmful situation? Do you know how long I’ve loathed you?
I was struggling! And I had to earn a living and I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll be the guy who has him killed …’
Shameful. I took a friend to a screening recently, and I was really mad because she laughed when the demons get you. And I was like, “Do not disrespect this movie!”
The effects look sort of ridiculous compared to now.
It’s a classic! Do you remember shooting that scene? Was it hard not to laugh?
The director had these dancers on roller skates and leotards acting like the demons and they kind of dragged me back — but they didn’t film that, it was just for reference. So it was just me alone, pretending I’m being attacked, reenacting how it felt when those people on roller skates were surrounding me.
But I also — Wait, do you know who Elvis Costello is? Please tell me you do.
You do realize I’m not 4, right?
It’s just hard to understand how you consider this a movie of your time. But, so, yeah, the director also told me to be like Elvis Costello — he sort of does that weird, spastic thing when he performs. So I channeled my inner Elvis Costello.
You direct. You’ve even directed an episode of “Scandal.” Have you had to tell someone to channel their inner Elvis Costello?
I don’t give musical references for that reason.
Last time I watched it, was five or six years ago. My kids and mother-in-law were watching it. I sat there watching it and thought, “This was a really good movie.” I really like it.
Hello, ditto! Which leads me to “Scandal.” I really did not want to watch “Scandal” because my loyalty lies with Sam Wheat. But I couldn’t stay away.
Good. And let me tell you, I just saw this season’s finale.
Forget about it.
Forget about it.
Stop acting like Cyrus! Tell me!
It’s freaking crazy. Here’s how crazy it is: I read the script, I shot it — the whole time I was watching it, I was screaming like a little [almost rhymes with Fitz]. The whole cast watched it together with Shonda. I was so shocked by the things that happened even though I knew they were going to happen. The show is so complicated that you sort of forget exactly what happens, and also, Shonda reconstructs the show in the cutting room; she makes editorial decisions, so it’s almost like rewriting. [Show producer] Tom Verica directed the episode, and he did an amazing job. It was as if I had no idea what was happening. It was really good.
That’s all you’re going to tell me? What should the hashtag be for Thursday’s episode?
That’s a tough one! I can’t think of one. I will say the episode will redefine “cliffhanger.” It’s incredibly satisfying; it gives you everything you want and then defies your expectations and shocks you.
Last week, everyone went crazy when Billy Chambers (Matt Letscher) was outed as the mole.
We often don’t get the scripts until the day before shooting because they work so hard on them. So the first time we typically see the scripts is at our table reads, when we all read it out loud together. When Matt Letscher came into the room, we were all like “WHATTTTTTTTT?” … We were just amazed.
Here’s another thing I would say, as shocking as the Billy Chambers reveal was, there’s an even bigger shocking reveal in the finale. That’s all I will say. It’s so far beyond who is the mole. I really wish I could tell you.
Is it weird, as someone not quite in the demo, to be part of this Twitter sensation. People go nuts for this show on Twitter. It’s insane.
It’s taken us all by surprise. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I haven’t felt anything like this since “Ghost,” really. And it’s like, double, that.
And probably in a better way, because people aren’t mad at you for killing Sam Wheat.
Ha! True! Well, sometimes they like me. Even though I’m a murdering philanderer.
Yeah, but people seem to root for the adultery — which is strange.
They do! But my wife is very uncomfortable with it. But, yeah, once in a very rare moon, something works on multiple levels. I remember feeling that with “Ghost.” It was a movie that had all these different things going on — it was a thriller, it was scary, it was romantic (which you love), it was hilarious — it satisfies every appetite. “Scandal” is very much like that. And it’s also really smart and very emotional and very topical and relevant and very now.
And so “now” in other ways, in that if you’re not watching it live, you’re a loser at the water cooler. But isn’t that overwhelming? How do you sustain that level of interest without burning out? Isn’t there fear that you’re working us up too much?
Not to me. I don’t have that pressure. We get the scripts every week and the next is better than the last.
But how do you sustain that?
I have no idea. Really, it does feel like a roller coaster, but it doesn’t have to stop to a halt. You can go on again and again and that rush is always there. All I can tell you is Shonda is one of the most brilliant people I have ever known. She’s not fooling around.
I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but who do you think committed the greater sin: Carl for having Sam Wheat (accidentally) killed or Fitz knowingly killing an elderly Supreme Court justice with cancer?
Definitely killing Sam Wheat is worse.
I’m glad you recognize that.
And I didn’t even kill him, or even mean to have him killed, but it was still worse.
Is it weird to play this sort of president? An affair, is one thing. But a president that talks about erections in the hallways and kills an old women in her hospital bed — I mean, that’s pretty nuts. Has President Obama reached out and been like, “Hey, man, stop it”?
I’m so nervous to run into that guy. He’ll probably be like, “Oh, it’s you! You can just stay away!” He’d have the Secret Service send me away.” Yeah, I’m actually nervous to meet Obama. I’m a little nervous to meet Bill Clinton, too — although, I hear he is a big fan of the show.
I’ll leave that alone. But can we talk about Kerry Washington’s style on the show? How impressed are you by her glove collection?
She can rock a pair of white gloves, can’t she?
Yes, and I wish I didn’t live in California so I could sport some myself. Do you ever get nervous being around her when she’s wearing white? Like, “Uh, oh, I can’t get her dirty.”
No, my job is to get her dirty!
I feel like I need to bleep that in print or something. How have your daughters reacted to seeing you in this role?
They send me mocking emails and texts, they think it’s really funny. [At this point, Tony pulls out his iPhone to show me a video text from his daugher, in which she recorded the “erection-talk” scene, with his daughter laughing as she watches and texting, “Excuse me?”]
And you mentioned your wife doesn’t like to watch.
She’s in the business, she’s a production designer. It’s work, part of it is that. She’s obviously thrilled for the success, but we’ve always taken a workmanlike attitude toward our professions. It’s a combo of keeping it about the job as opposed to getting to caught up in the glitz of success. The other part is maybe I don’t need to see my husband thrusting with another woman in a closet.
Understandable. Let’s talk Scott Foley — is his character a good guy or bad guy?
I think he’s both. It’s very hard for me to watch. I love Scott as a person, I think he does a great job on the show. It’s really hard for me to watch him as Jake with Olivia. I had to direct a scene between the two of them and that was hard. Once I got into it, it was fine. But it was hard at first.
There’s a scene in the finale between the two of them that is — I’m not saying there’s a sex scene between them, but there is a connection scene between them, and I literally couldn’t look. I was like, “Shonda, was that in the script!? Did you rewrite that!?” and she was like, “Tony, that was in the script you read,” and I was like, “No, I’ve never seen that before.” I think I’ve become jealous for my character — I completely blocked it out.
So what should the gladiators do from Thursday night until fall, as they wait for “Scandal” to return for a third season?