"Scandal" left fans in a frenzy at the end of its second season.
Despite the finale's startling revelation—Rowan is Olivia Pope's father!—fans are hotly anticipating Thursday's Season 3 premiere that picks up 22 minutes after Olivia (Kerry Washington) stepped into Rowan's (Joe Morton) car to escape the media horde quizzing her about her affair with President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).
Yes, someone leaked that tidbit to the press, and as a result, presidential Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene, still recovering from his heart attack, will forge some surprising new alliances this season to "kill that horrible, untrue, hideous allegation."
I talked with Highland Park native and Steppenwolf Theater co-founder Jeff Perry, who plays Cyrus, about what fans can expect when TV's buzziest show returns at 9 p.m. Thursday on ABC.
How's your heart doing?
[Laughs.] I think it was what, maybe about one commercial break before Cyrus is fighting with the paramedics, having had some size of a heart attack and trying to get the oxygen mask off his face so that he can continue his work phone call with Olivia and Fitz. Yeah, so you'll find some of the characters wanting Cyrus to try to remember that he had a heart attack in the first episodes of Season 3.
Tell me, do you like this guy or is he a little too dark?
I love playing this guy. [Show creator] Shonda [Rhimes] imbues all of the characters and Cyrus has this in spades, such great duality and complications and dichotomies. You get the feeling that he's confirmed bachelor who is suddenly, and kind of mysteriously to him, falling in love with this very ambitious, very handsome younger-than-him journalist. There are just wonderfully telling little moments that Shonda's put in there that make you imagine James and Cyrus going into any public event and James trying to hold his hand or snuggle up and Cyrus going, "Careful, careful, careful." The repressed, almost closeted gay man versus the what-are-you-ashamed-of [gay man].
And then there's a real true believer and a lover of history and a lover of the office of the presidency in Cyrus. There's a backstory that he was a political science professor and somehow has comingled with this political strategist where any means justify the proper ends. And a kind of idealism and ruthless pragmatism are somehow in the stew pot of the character. So Shonda just creates circumstances that are heaven for actors.
I can't imagine that wouldn't be fun to play, and you do it well.
Listen, I enjoy doing it. My wife kind of has an affectionate nickname of me, there's my Mahatma Patton in talking about me. [She says,] Most of the time he's Gandhi, but once in a while General George comes out and then you would sort of want to be in the other room. So I think I'm channeling the General George side a bit more with Cyrus. It's fun; you sort of get to vent it and then I can be a wonderful pacifist when I'm at home.
He has these great murky motivations, and I was wondering if you could give any clues about what Cyrus will be up to this season?
Now we're shooting episode six of Season 3, so I've got a bit more inkling of the story than the audience can have, or it would ruin everything. And the show is completely dependent upon surprise. But one thing I could say is that Cyrus is mysteriously transported to a very ominous meeting in the trunk of a car somewhere in the first couple of episodes. I know that.
And I know that, as usual, it feels like political paramedics around there of responding to the latest threats and problems. And this is a big one. The first lady, Mellie, has already confirmed with the public, via a sit-down on TV with James, that the president has been unfaithful. She didn't name any names, interestingly. And then at the very end of Season 2, someone or more than one person have leaked that they believe it's Olivia. "You are the mystery mistress."
And so we find Cyrus in league with Mellie to a certain extent and kind of uniquely in league with Harrison on Olivia's team, trying to find out the source of that leak and to kill that horrible, untrue, hideous allegation. And that's going to consume Cyrus for the first nine episodes.
Now, literally kill?
[Laughs.] Well, you know, metaphorically, literally—somewhere in there.
Is there anything that Cyrus won't do to keep Fitz in office and protect his friends?
We kind of have seen him in one crucible moment at the very tick of the 11th hour, not be able to go through with a hit on his husband to save the administration. Cyrus I think, whether it's accurate or a romanticism, feels like saving a really destructive period for the republic in general. So yeah, when push came to shove, husbandly love won out in that moment. We kind of joke that on "Scandal," it's Valentine's Day when you call off a hit on your husband. That's romance.