The co-star of the NAACP Image Award winner for best drama series reflects on balancing his work in front of and behind the cameras.
Actor-director-producer Tony Goldwyn
Tavis: Tony Goldwyn is a talented actor who stars on the hit ABC drama “Scandal.” He’s also enjoyed success in film and on Broadway, most recently opposite Kristin Chenoweth on the musical “Promises, Promises.” “Scandal,” now in its second season, airs Thursday nights at 10:00 on ABC. So here now, a scene from “Scandal.”
Tavis: You are out of your mind. (Laughter)
Tony Goldwyn: That’s true.
Tavis: The president cannot – a sitting president cannot divorce his wife.
Goldwyn: Yeah, I think you’re probably right about that. (Laughter) Yeah. Fits my character. He’s got a few problems on his plate.
Tavis: (Laughs) I was about – I’ll come back to that. So when you saw this come across your desk, what is it that most intrigued you about wanting to play this?
I ask that question of you specifically Tony because there have been countless folk who played president of the United States, but this moment, with all the hype and the celebrity appeal and the vigor and youth of the Obama administration, there’s just so much focus – not that there isn’t always – but so much focus placed on this White House, and you’ve got to play the president in a television series. What made you want to do this?
Goldwyn: Well, that was part of it.
Goldwyn: I feel like we’re at a moment where there’s a renewed interest and glamour and a kind of new generation interested in politics, which is something I’ve always been fascinated with.
The biggest reasons for me was the combination of Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes. I’ve been dying to work with Kerry. We were very friendly through politics and social advocacy, and I just have for a long time felt that Kerry is one of our best actresses, film actresses working.
Then when I heard Shonda had created the show for her, I knew that’d be a really interesting, exciting combination. Then when Shonda asked me to do it, I thought, well, Shonda Rhimes is going to write a really fun president, and if there’s a potential love interest with Kerry Washington, that’s something you don’t want to turn down. (Laughter) For a lot of reasons.
Tavis: So you’re going to leave your white wife for the sister? (Laughter) That would be scandal.
Goldwyn: That’s right.
Tavis: The name is appropriate. Since you mentioned Shonda, and I’m glad you went there because I was going to go there anyway, but what do you make – you’ve been around this business for quite a while – what do you make of the success that she has done?
We’ve met a couple of times, but the success that she’s had, I should say, in a relatively short period of time. There’s no such thing as overnight success in this down, but she’s gone from “Gray’s Anatomy” to “Private Practice” to “Scandal.”
Tavis: She’s got some hits under her belt in a relatively short period of time.
Goldwyn: Yeah, I met Shonda right as “Gray’s” was getting started. I directed, I think, the third episode of “Gray’s.” When I read the pilot script for that and saw the first episode, because as director you look at what’s been shot, and immediately I thought this woman has such a distinctive voice.
What I think Shonda’s real gift is is she has this innate understanding of what people want to see in terms of popcorn, entertainment, soap opera value, but also with really smart dialogue and a lot of intelligence. She takes on big issues, she makes big move stories. She’s a fearless writer.
So she has this weird combination of guilty pleasure and a high IQ. So people get engaged in her shows, like “Scandal.” We’ve really been consistently building an audience from pretty much the grass roots. ABC was behind it and we came out of the gate pretty well, enough to keep us going.
But over the past – we did a short season for the first season, and now we’re halfway through our second, and every week it gets bigger. Through Twitter, and she’s just got a real following that devours what she does, and yeah.
Then I think in “Scandal” she’s really kind of at the top of her form. She keeps turning in great scripts.
Tavis: Yeah. I was about what you make of – and there are so many stories in politics and entertainment and beyond that can attest to the power of social media these days, but since you went there I’ll follow you in.
There is this arc that this show has been on that is clearly, to my mind, at least, and others have written about this, the result of a very aggressive social media campaign. So what have you come to appreciate or learn even more about the value, or the power, at least, of social media in this business?
Goldwyn: Well, it’s new for me.
Goldwyn: I’m of an age where I didn’t have a whole lot of familiarity with it and interest in it, really. My two daughters live on Facebook and social media is their mode of communication. I was real skeptical of it. I felt I didn’t really need Facebook; I didn’t have any use for it, personally.
I didn’t think professionally, and ABC asked us to get on Twitter as soon as the show came out. I was a little snobby about Twitter. I thought this whole sound bite culture that we live in (laughter) really gets on my nerves, that everything is boiled down to -
Tavis: (Crosstalk) characters, yeah.
Goldwyn: – 140 characters, whatever. I said, “I’m not doing that,” and they said, “Well, we want you to,” so all right. Then I knew that I was behind the times, so I thought okay, let me check it out.
I must say I was really uncomfortable with it at first, and within a very short period of time I was stunned by the scope and the power of it. We do this thing on “Scandal” where we do live tweeting during the episode, so the cast, everyone who’s available, will get on Twitter, and we communicate in real time with our fans.
There’s a cascade of interest, and then all of a sudden something you said is trending on Twitter, and we watch that grow. Honestly, I realized it was a lot of fun.
Tavis: This is impressive. You know what “trending” is, now?
Goldwyn: Yeah, well, it took me a few – wait, what is trending? How does that work? (Laughter) No, literally, the first time I tweeted I was terrified of the thing. I was like, “Wait, what button do I push, and what if I don’t like what I said?” I sweated it and then you get the hang of it, and now it’s really fun. I tweet with some regularity and thousands of people, for some insane reason, are interested in some of what I have to say.
Tavis: Want to know what you – yeah.
Goldwyn: Which was part of getting it over, like who cares? But people do, and they’re interested, and you learn how to communicate. It’s extraordinary, and it’s been – Kerry Washington is a master at it.
Kerry really was the one who encouraged all of us, and another guy on our show, Josh Malina, who’s one of our actors, was way ahead of the curve, and he’s really into it. It’s been a big engine for us, I think.
Tavis: You’re playing the president on this TV series, on ABC’s “Scandal,” but you have real-life concern about issues. The first time we met, and we didn’t actually meet that night, but I was in the audience one night at a Creative Coalition gathering when you were president back in the day.
Goldwyn: Okay, right.
Tavis: So I know that you’re very much engaged and involved in the stuff that matters in our world. Did that in any way pull you to this opportunity, or are the two things just totally disconnected?
Goldwyn: Oh, no, completely. I’ve been a political junkie for a long time. I find the way Washington works is just fascinating to me.
Tavis: That’s one word for it.
Goldwyn: Yeah, or it doesn’t work sometimes.
Tavis: Or doesn’t work, yeah, yeah.
Goldwyn: It’s fascinating, and so to have an opportunity to really dig in and put myself in the situation of the most difficult job in the world, it’s certainly the most pressurized job in the world, and to see how do you handle that with grace, and what is that?
But that really excited me. Kerry’s also, as you know, a big political advocate and junkie herself, so it’s been great.
Tavis: A silly question here – not the first or the last I’ve asked in my career – does playing the president of the United States in any way enhance your value or stature in this town?
Goldwyn: We’ll find out, Tavis.
Tavis: Yeah. What would Martin Sheen have to say about this question?
Goldwyn: Yeah, I don’t know. You know, it’s – I don’t know quite how to answer that question, but I will say that it gives you – it’s a great framework for a character, because you have instantaneously power, which is automatically attractive to people in your orbit. I don’t mean necessarily people in my orbit – maybe in Hollywood, I don’t know.
But just as a – I’ve been watching this show and seeing how Shonda’s writing the character, being the president, you just get a lot of juice just from that fact, because you’re the center of power. So there’s a sexuality to it, there’s innate charisma.
It enables you to exercise power in a lot of different ways, so it makes it a very sexy character by definition, and I think that the way that that comes off the screen is fun to watch, I think.
Tavis: This is the kind of question that people think that you have to ask. By the very nature of the question, I think it has to be asked of an African American as opposed to anybody else. But I’m curious specifically given the roots that your family has in this business to ask you this question.
So Shonda Rhimes, the producer of this show, the creator of it, the writer of it, is a Black woman.
Kerry Washington, your costar, clearly an African American woman. If there were any doubt in this business that Black women and people of color have the capacity to run and to lead hit shows, let’s put that nonsense to rest, given the success that “Scandal” has.
Goldwyn: No question.
Tavis: As a white male, how do you process that? Do you think about it? Do you get asked about it? That is, the issue of diversity and inclusion in this town.
Goldwyn: It’s a huge – I think about it constantly. I think about it in my work as a producer and a director. It’s a theme I’ve been interested and wanted to be involved – I’ve wanted to make a movie; I’ve been looking for a story that was a biracial love affair or a love story for a long time.
I find racial politics are fascinating in our country, and admiring women like Shonda and Kerry, who are real trailblazers, I feel very fortunate to now be a part of a show that – it’s shocking to me that it’s been, what, 30 years since there’s been an African American as the protagonist in a network hour drama.
Tavis: A woman, yeah.
Goldwyn: A woman, yeah, I meant a woman, (unintelligible) Caroline, and that’s shocking to me. So yes, I’ve just done a show that I created. We’ll see if it goes to series, but a pilot for the AMC network with an African American lead actor.
The themes of that show get into racial politics, it’s about social justice and about the criminal justice system, but it sort of centers on an African American protagonist and the power structure of white America and Black America.
The emerging Black power structure in our country, I just think it’s fairly exciting and sometimes still very disturbing. The more it comes to the forefront, the more you see the ugly underbelly of racism in our culture. So I just think we’re living in very dynamic, exciting times.
Tavis: One of the reasons why I raised that is because I don’t know the extent to which ABC is actually acknowledging this. Sometimes networks embrace this; sometimes they don’t because they don’t want to colorize the show.
But it’s pretty clear if you’re in the Black community that the buzz on this show is growing exponentially. That the fan base of the show inside of Black America is growing. The fact that you guys won the NAACP Image award the other night shows that the Black audience is checking out this show.
I only raise that because it again shows that you can put dramas on television that appeal to people of color. Everything doesn’t have to be a comedy, that we do drama right (unintelligible) people.
That’s my own soapbox, but it shows people -
Goldwyn: Oh, I’m with you 100 percent
Tavis: – that people of color can get into dramas if it’s done right and done in a way that’s intriguing and all the stuff, obviously, that “Scandal” is, which takes me back to your family.
Before I ask my question, let me ask how tired, how sick and tired you get of being asked about your family? Because if you say the name “Goldwyn,” you ain’t even got to be a Hollywood insider to just know that half the movies you see, you see that name Goldwyn right across at the end of the screen. So are you ever perturbed by being asked about this family thing?
Goldwyn: No, I’m not at all. No, not at all. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Goldwyn: When I was younger it was hard, because when you’re trying to establish your own identity, it’s a weight on your shoulders that you have to figure out how to carry. But now that I’m sort of in the middle of my career, I feel deeply privileged to be a part of a legacy like that, and that my grandfather talked about.
Tavis: Samuel Goldwyn.
Goldwyn: Samuel Goldwyn, talk about overcoming adversity, who left Poland on foot at 14, 15 years old, walked, made his way to America and managed to, without any English, make his way in the turn of the last century and be one of the people that started the movie business and had a 60-year career in the movie business.
To now be a third generation of that, I feel deeply privileged. I really feel that, because I do what I do, and I have a brother who’s a producer and a younger brother who’s in the business, and my father has had a great career. So it’s wonderful.
Tavis: Yeah. How did you navigate those early days, trying to figure out what your path was going to be? This question is particularly interesting for me to ask of you as opposed to other Goldwyns, because you decided to be an artist.
Goldwyn: Right, right.
Tavis: So much have this has been on the business side of – it is the business of Hollywood. So you need that, but you decided to go the artistic route, so how did you figure all that out?
Goldwyn: Yeah, well, it came to me – my mother’s side of my family was also in show business.
Tavis: That’s right.
Goldwyn: But in the artist side, in the theater.
Tavis: And let’s give some props – not just in show business; let’s talk about “Gone with the Wind.”
Goldwyn: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Tell the story, yeah.
Goldwyn: My mother’s father was a man named Sidney Howard, who was a very successful Broadway playwright, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who then became a screenwriter who in fact worked for Sam Goldwyn before my parents were – my parents were little kids – who wrote some great screenplays as well, one of which was “Gone with the Wind.”
He won an Oscar the year he died. He died in an accident and won an Oscar posthumously for “Gone with the Wind.” So when I grew up, my mother’s whole world was in the theater, and that’s what really captured my imagination and my passion.
I thought I didn’t want to go into show business. I thought I wanted to find something else to do, to do my own thing. Then in high school I started doing plays because that’s one of the things you can do for fun, and I got instantly hooked.
I, as I say, as a child, had just had this passion and love of the theater, and so that’s where I thought my path, and that’s how I started. I went to acting school in England after college, and started working in regional theaters in the United States and in the New York theater, and kind of kept away from Hollywood at first, just to kind of get my sea legs and figure out who I was and what I was about.
So I worked in the New York theater for a couple of years and then realized it would be tough to get a job or make a living ever if I didn’t have some visibility in movies and TV. So then I kind of started journeying out to Hollywood and breaking into doing guest shots on TV shows and tiny parts in movies. After about six years, I finally got a big break in a movie and it was a little bit easier.
Tavis: So that Goldwyn name doesn’t catapult you to the front of the line?
Goldwyn: It didn’t me. I think it would be hard as an actor, because you’ve got to kind of deliver. I didn’t want to – maybe I had a little neurosis about it. I didn’t want any favors. I didn’t want to trade on it. I wasn’t embarrassed by it, but I was embarrassed asking for favors.
Once or twice my brother, who’s a very successful guy, my older brother John helped me out and introduced me to so-and-so and I’d get a meeting. Every time I went to one of those meetings where he’d set me up, it just was awkward and embarrassing and I didn’t get the job.
I felt I was putting him in an uncomfortable place. So I just said, “Okay, I’ll do it on my own,” and at the end of the day that was the right choice for me.
Tavis: Is there any – you ain’t got to call names, but anybody in your family who’s not in the business?
Goldwyn: Yeah, my oldest brother is a businessman.
Goldwyn: My sister is a musician and now runs a wonderful not-for-profit here in California, a group called Sound Art LA, which provides music education to underprivileged schools and inner city community centers. Yeah, so.
Tavis: Cool. So we talked earlier about the fact that you obviously have done and continue to do some directing.
The acting story I got, but how did the directing, where’d that come from? How’d that get into the story?
Goldwyn: Well, about 10 years into my career as an actor I just started to feel like I wanted to do more. I thought in 10 more years I’m going to start getting bored. I didn’t like always being at the mercy of someone giving me a job, or if I was in a hit then I’d get 100 scripts.
If I was in a bomb, suddenly no scripts came. I thought I wanted more self-determination and I wanted to do more than just act. So I started looking for material thinking I wanted to produce a movie that I would act in. So I could then find the script, develop the material, find a role for myself and be involved in the whole creative process.
I found something that I loved that I didn’t actually feel right to act in, but I worked with the writer for two years getting the script into shape, and then when it came time to find a director I didn’t want to give it away to somebody else. I thought they’re going to screw it up.
So I decided to direct it myself, and I got lucky and Dustin Hoffman heard about the script, and he just put a deal together to produce small films. I got this call out of the blue saying “Dustin Hoffman read your script and is interested in meeting you.”
So we’ve been slaving away at this and Dustin loved it, and he said, “We have some money and you want to direct this, right?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “You should. Actors make great directors.”
So I directed my first film and it worked out. It was called “A Walk on the Moon.” It was with Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen and Liev Schreiber and it was a wonderful experience. That kind of worked and led to other things, so.
Tavis: How weird is it – and maybe weird’s not the right word, but you fill in the blank – what is it when you’re directing episodes of stuff that you are in, because you have directed and will, I’m sure, in the future direct stuff -
Goldwyn: Yeah, I’m going to direct a “Scandal.”
Tavis: – that you – like “Scandal,” yeah, I figured.
Goldwyn: Coming up soon, yeah.
Tavis: I figured as much.
Goldwyn: Well, I had – the first couple of movies that I directed I didn’t want to act in at all. I thought I’d done my best work as an actor when I had a director who could help me, and I didn’t want to cross the line on that.
Then I was directing this show called “The L Word” on Showtime.
Tavis: Oh, yeah.
Goldwyn: I directed a few episodes, and Ilene Chaiken, the creator, said, “You know, Tony, I want to write a character for you. Would you consider doing it?” I thought, well, that’s a safe, kind of interesting way to try an episode of television. If I mess up, it’s not that big a deal.
I ended up loving it. I found that I had a kind of perspective on it, because I was also the director, so I sort of saw the overview as opposed to just seeing things from my character’s point of view. Then I did it again on “Dexter,” and I’m going to do it on “Scandal,” and -
Tavis: But how are you going to direct the president of the United States?
Goldwyn: He’ll just have to do what I tell him. (Laughter)
Tavis: That’s going to be fun. You like the directing thing? I assume you do, because you want to more of it, yeah, yeah.
Goldwyn: Yeah, I love it. I love it. I love it, yeah, yeah, yeah, I did – it’s a little tough right now with “Scandal,” because it’s such a big commitment. As I mentioned before, I co-created and directed a pilot for AMC this year, and if that show ends up going forward I’ll be involved in directing when I can.
A movie takes about a year and a half to do, so I think as long as “Scandal” is running I won’t be able to direct another movie. The last movie I did was called “Conviction,” which was in 2010, with Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell.
So I’m sad that I won’t be able to – but meanwhile, I’m working on scripts and looking, so whenever “Scandal” finishes its run, I’ll get more into the directing. So right now I’m just grateful to be doing as much acting as I’m doing.
Tavis: Well, if this thing keeps getting the buzz that it’s gotten so far, that might be not too soon.
Goldwyn: Yeah, we might have a – yeah, and that’s problems that we should have, so.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. Do you know what your next project’s going to be, the next directing thing beyond the AMC thing?
Goldwyn: I don’t, because really, “Scandal’s” got me -
Tavis: Still looking at stuff?
Goldwyn: Yeah, I’ve got a few television projects that I’m developing that we’re pitching to networks to hopefully set up another pilot, because that works out scheduling-wise for me when I can do that, but those are all in the development phase.
Tavis: Right. So before I let you go, is there anything that you can tell me about where this season is heading?
Goldwyn: Well, all I can say is (laughter) tomorrow night’s episode just blows the doors off of – things have been building, and one of the things Shonda does is she just gets crazy with the big moves she makes in her storytelling. Tomorrow, this week’s episode is off the charts.
You watch it and you feel like you’ve seen five episodes of television in one, so it’s just the stakes keep ratcheting up, and my life, Fitz’s life is going to – if it wasn’t bad enough already, if he didn’t have enough problems, it’s going to get worse.
Tavis: So I guess that means we’ll all be watching “Scandal” this week.
Goldwyn: Yeah, you better.
Tavis: Tony, good to have you on the program.
Goldwyn: Thanks, Tavis.
Tavis: The show is called “Scandal” on ABC, co-starring one Tony Goldwyn, and we’ll see what happens this week and in the weeks to come.
Goldwyn: Great, so good to be here.
Tavis: Glad to have you here. That’s our show for tonight. See you back here next time on PBS. Until then, good night from L.A., thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.
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