Scandal: Connie Britton was the first choice for Olivia Pope


It's hard to imagine anyone else besides Kerry Washington playing Olivia Pope on Scandal. She brings a poignant blend of warmth and ferocity to the iconic Shondaland character—not to mention her casting was monumental for black female representation in Hollywood. Simply put, Kerry Washington is Olivia Pope. (Cue listening to her catchphrase, "It's handled!" on repeat.)

But Washington actually wasn't the first choice for the part. In a new feature for The Hollywood Reporter, Shonda Rhimes and the gang reveal the original casting short list for Olivia Pope was comprised of all white women—and Connie Britton was at the top to slip into Olivia's opulent coats.

"The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women," casting director Linda Lowy said. "I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, 'We're going to have to redo this list.'"

See photos of Connie Britton:
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27 PHOTOS
Connie Britton out and about
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Connie Britton out and about
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Connie Britton is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, February 7, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC vis Getty Images) CONNIE BRITTON, GINGER ZEE
Actress Connie Britton attends 'Beatriz at Dinner' Premiere at Eccles Center Theatre during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 23, 2017. / AFP / VALERIE MACON (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 23: Actress Connie Britton attends AT&T At The Lift during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for AT&T)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 23: (Front L-R) Actors Amy Landecker, Connie Britton, John Lithgow, Salma Hayek, and director Miguel Areta of 'Cast Change' and (Top) Keving Smith attend The IMDb Studio featuring the Filmmaker Discovery Lounge, presented by Amazon Video Direct: Day Four during The 2017 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 21: Actress Connie Britton attends The IMDb Studio featuring the Filmmaker Discovery Lounge, presented by Amazon Video Direct: Day Two during The 2017 Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDb)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 08: 74th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Actress Connie Britton arrives to the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 8, 2017. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Connie Britton attends the 2016 United Nations Development Programme Global Goals Gala at Phillips on December 5, 2016 in New York (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Actress Connie Britton arrives at the 6th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HAITI RISING Gala Benefiting J/P Haitian Relief Organization at Montage Beverly Hills on January 7, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: (L-R) Director David O. Russell, actors Kuoth Wiel, Allison Williams and Connie Britton arrive at the screening Of David O. Russell's 'Past Forward' hosted by Prada at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel on November 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Actress Connie Britton attends Prada Presents 'Past Forward' by David O. Russell premiere at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel on November 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Connie Britton arrives for the 68th Emmy Awards on September 18, 2016 at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles. / AFP / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Actress Connie Britton attends the Vanity and FX Annual Primetime Emmy Nominations Party at Craft Restaurant on September 17, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Actress Connie Britton speaks at The United State of Women Reception hosted by Civic Nation at Hay-Adams Hotel on June 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: (L-R) Actress Sarah Paulson, writer/director/producer Ryan Murphy and Connie Britton at Vanity Fair And FX's Annual Primetime Emmy Nominations Party on September 17, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Actress Connie Britton attends The United State of Women Reception hosted by Civic Nation at Hay-Adams Hotel on June 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Saycon Sengbloh, Connie Britton, Sophia Bush and Jersey Banks attend Broadway's 'Eclipsed' at Golden Theatre on May 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Connie Britton and Lupita Nyong'o backstage at Broadway's 'Eclipsed' at Golden Theatre on May 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 370 -- Pictured: Actress Connie Britton during an interview on May 16, 2016 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: Connie Britton arrives for the 27th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Waldorf=Astoria on May 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: Actress Laverne Cox (L) and Actress Connie Britton pose backstage at the 27th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York on May 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for GLAAD)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Actress Connie Britton attends the 102nd White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/FilmMagic)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: Actress Connie Britton attends The New Yorker's annual party kicking off The White House Correspondents' Association Dinner Weekend hosted by David Remnick at W Hotel Rooftop on April 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The New Yorker)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: VP & Chief Privacy Officer, Policy at Facebook, Erin Egan and actress Connie Britton attend the Glamour and Facebook brunch to discuss sexism in 2016, during WHCD Weekend at Kinship on April 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Glamour)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15: Actress Connie Britton attends the 'Wolves' after party during 2016 Tribeca Film Festival at No. 8 on April 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for 2016 Tribeca Film Festival)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04: Actress Connie Britton attends the For Your Consideration event for FX's 'The People v. O.J. Simpson - American Crime Story' at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on April 4, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that include celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Wednesday, March 9 included Louis C.K., Connie Britton ('Nashville') and musical guest The Wild Feathers. (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) JIMMY KIMMEL, CONNIE BRITTON
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The list needed a redo because Rhimes always intended for Olivia Pope to be a black woman. "I didn't know that there hadn't been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years," she said. "When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, 'This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.' I said, 'It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.'"

The head of drama at ABC, Channing Dungey, confirmed this. "Shonda said she felt strongly that Olivia be black. [Olivia] was inspired by Judy [Smith, a crisis manager in Washington, D.C.], and she wanted to honor that."

Thankfully, ABC got on board—but it actually took the network a few seasons to truly start exploring Olivia Pope as a black woman, even though Washington had the gig. "In the first season [of Scandal], it was as if Olivia Pope was raceless," Washington told Glamour in her May cover story. "There was no denying that Olivia was a black woman because I'm a black woman playing her in badass white trench coats that call to attention the fact that I'm not looking like anybody else on television. But we didn't talk about her identity as a black person...[Since then] the writers have become more and more willing to deal with race."

Of course, Washington is perfect for Olivia just from an acting perspective, but she's also a reason why TV is becoming more diverse. ABC's decision to fully explore the nuances of Olivia—and the success of Scandal—helped make room for other complicated women of color in lead roles, like Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) on Rhimes' other smash How to Get Away With Murder. Just think how different (and horrible) your Thursday nights would be without them.

See photos of Kerry Washington:

26 PHOTOS
Kerry Washington 2015 Style
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Kerry Washington 2015 Style

January 2015

Washington wore a metallic color-blocked magenta and indigo gown by Mary Katrantzou to the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills.

Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

January 2015

The actress arrived at The Daily Front Row's 1st Annual Fashion Awards in LA wearing a geoprint black and white long sleeve top with a heather grey printed mini skirt.

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

January 2015

To the 26th Annual PGA Awards, Washington donned a Prabal Gurung Pre-Fall 2015 strapless floral embroidered gown.

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

February 2015

Washington celebrated the launch of Jennifer Meyer xo Jessica Alba in Hollywood, wearing a fun polka dot dress with white pumps.

Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for GILT

February 2015

Washington arrived at the 46th Annual NAACP Image Awards sporting a red lace Zuhair Murad gown.

Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage

February 2015

The actress walked the red carpet at the SNL 40th Anniversary Special wearing a cool oversized white blazer and pumps.

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

February 2015

To the Alfre Woodard's Oscar's Sistahs Soiree, Washington wore a floral color-blocked Sophia Kah ensemble.

Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Elizabeth Taylor White Diamond's Lustre

February 2015

Washington donned a unique black Balenciaga dress with Manolo Blahnik pumps to the 2015 Independent Spirit Awards.

Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

February 2015

The 'Scandal' actress attended the 87th Annual Academy Awards in a cream-colored Miu Miu strapless gown with gorgeous floral embroidery.

Photo by Dan MacMedan/WireImage

March 2015

For the 'Scandal' event at the 32nd Annual PaleyFest, Washington sported a Mary Katrantzou Pre-Fall 2015 sleeveless blouse and an abstract jacquard skirt, adding a pop of color with yellow pumps.

Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

May 2015

Washington wore a patterned Timo Weiland dress and Tamara Mellon shoes. She wore Porter Lyons earrings, Sethi Couture rings and carried a Lee Savage clutch to Scandal's ATAS panel event.

Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

May 2015

Washington wore a stunning pink silk gown by Prada, along with emerald green heels to the 2015 Met Gala.

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

May 2015

Washington wore an alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet jumpsuit with Christian Louboutin pumps, a Movado watch and Lorraine Schwartz earrings to the 2015 ABC NY Upfront Presentation in May.

Photo by Photo Image Press / Barcroft Med via Getty Images)

May 2015

Washington attended The Paley Center for Media's tribute to African-American achievements in television, wearing a cool black perforated frock.

Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage

May 2015

To the Disney Media Distribution International Upfronts, the actress wore an Alexander Lewis dress, Le Silla pumps and EFFY Jewelry earrings.

Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

June 2015

Washington attended the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in June wearing a David Koma strapless top and skirt with EFFY and EF Collection jewels. She carried an Edie Parker clutch.

Photo by Barcroft Media via Getty Images

August 2015

Washington wore a blue baroque print layered dress by Mary Katrantzou to the Disney ABC Television Group's 2015 TCA Summer Press Tour.

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

September 2015

The actress arrived at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in a stunning embellished Marc Jacobs dress.

Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

September 2015

The actress attended the Limited Edition Allstate Foundation Purple Purse launch event in New York City, wearing a sparkly black midi dress with sheer material and a sexy deep V.

Photo by Brent N. Clarke/WireImage

September 2015

To SiriusXM's Town Hall with Kerry Washington, the actress went for a casual look, wearing a floral sleeveless top, cuffed boyfriend jeans and T-strap pumps.

Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

September 2015

Washington attended the 2015 Global Citizen Festival, donning a funky black and white Balenciaga tube dress and Eva Fehren rings.

Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Global Citizen

November 2015

Kerry Washington wore an off-the-shoulder black gown to the ACLU SoCal Hosts 2015 Bill of Rights dinner in Beverly Hills.

Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic

November 2015

Washington attended the 2015 Baby2Baby Gala wearing a gorgeous sheer and floral Giambattista Valli ballgown.

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

November 2015

To the WWD and Variety Inaugural Stylemakers' Event, the actress sported a black and white striped Saloni crop top and high-waisted skirt with Nicholas Kirkwood Zig Zag pumps.

Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

December 2015

Washington attended the 38th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala in December, wearing a black strapless feather bustier gown from Marchesa's Spring 2016 collection.

Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

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