Columbus Short: The Makings of a Scandal

Columbus Short
Columbus Short

By // Anslem Samuel Rocque 

Over the years, Columbus Short has made a name for himself on the silver screen, with prominent roles in films like Stomp the Yard, This Christmas, Cadillac Records and The Losers. But last year, he joined current JET cover girl, Kerry Washington on the set of the ABC political drama, Scandal. Produced by the incomparable Shonda Rhimes, the series has been a runaway hit.

As part of JET’s cover story on Washington, we spoke with Short to get a few secrets from the set. You’ll have to pick up the issue on newsstands to get the behind the scenes goodies, but here Short shares how he got involved with Scandal, why Washington was always his First Lady and the reason this season is will be even more addictive.

How’d get involved with Scandal?

I got a call from my team that it was a great script but I had my trepidations. Not because Shonda Rhimes is amazing, talented and a great writer, but because I didn’t know if I wanted to entertain the idea of doing a television show. I read the script first and took the meeting and I basically went from having trepidations to asking Shonda, “How can I be a part of this?” A couple days later I got an offer and here we are. I’m grateful.

Was Kerry Washington already attached at that time?

No, she wasn’t. I was the first one hired and attached to the show and I remember there was a limited list and one of the litigating factors of whether I would do it or not was who was going to play Olivia Pope. What a great call in casting Kerry.

What was it about Kerry that stood out to you?

Hollywood is very small, but I had never met Kerry— I just admired her work from afar. First from her work, knowing as a student of the craft her skill set was at such a high level that I respected her work ethic. Her sense of class, her dignity, her knowledge, she’s articulate and kind, and I had never heard a bad thing about her. She’s strong, Black, White or indifferent, she’s a strong woman and I knew that character required this strength that she embodies naturally.

How different or similar is Kerry to Olivia Pope?

Kerry is a very sweet, meek, quietly monstrous woman. And I think that’s the security that she has. Her confidence lies in her knowledge and her understanding of A, her craft, B, the world—she’s politically sound, C, this business. She’s more like Olivia Pope than people would ever imagine. She’s a fearless leader, a fearless woman and of all the people I’ve met in my career and become friends with she is the best. I am blessed and honored to be in her life. She is my dear friend, she is my sister. She is amazing. Just like my character Harrison Wright says in that opening scene about how Olivia Pope is as amazing as they say, well, Kerry Washington is as amazing as they say.

How well does Kerry capture Judy Smith?

She takes good knowledge from Judy and Judy is a beast. She takes her knowledge and the information and created a character, which could play cinematically and on television. She created Olivia Pope from sources and created a character. As the season has progressed, all from the first season and up to now, she knows who she is, she knows who Olivia Pope is, she knows this character, and they’re becoming one and the same.

How well does Kerry deal with crisis on set?

I wouldn’t say crisis but in production and what we do there’s always issues at every turn, it’s just how it goes. How she handles problems is a… I wish we could document it and bottle it up and sell it for people to understand this is how we deal with problems, this is how we deal with conflict, with assurtty, compassion but also with a strong stance. She’s an amazing problem solver. She’s an amazing communicator and a lot of people don’t have the ability to communicate well. That is 90 percent of the battle in solving any problem. Having an issue with communication with disrespect, without being condescending, without being belittled… just being strong and having a stance, not backing down. It’s a very fine line to juxtapose those qualities and she does it well.

Kerry started early in her career in Save the Last Dance and you appeared in Save the Last Dance 2, did you guys acknowledge that when y’all first met?

Yeah, we did and that’s what’s so funny, it was like, How did we never meet? But everything happens for a reason; it’s quite serendipitous that way. I think our career paths brought us to this point. We were going to do this together for a reason. It was right on time. We’ve acknowledged it, we have to acknowledge it. Things aren’t by accident.

What is it about Scandal that makes the show so successful?

I think it resonated with people because it was new and refreshing to see an African-American woman playing the role that she’s playing. It was refreshing to see story lines and the way it was told, it was refreshing, interesting and poignant to see behind the curtain of the political scandals that we’re always wondering what’s going on behind them. So I just knew if people watched, it’s one of those shows where it’s like a hit of heroin and once you get a hit of heroin you always want to do it again. Scandal is a drug.

To read Columbus Short’s on-set Scandal secrets, be sure to pick up the current issue of JET, which is on stands now or click here to subscribe.