8:30pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Scandal' Case Study: Dan Bucatinsky on James' Investigation and Taking on the White House
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's "Defiance" episode of Scandal.]
Cyrus' eager husband James opened the door into a dangerous world Thursday on ABC's Scandal when at President Fitzgerald Grant's birthday dinner, the hungry White House reporter connected Defiance, Ohio, with intelligence David sent his way about Hollis' connection into rigged voting machines.
Following the lead, James (Dan Bucatinsky) lies to his husband -- who happens to be Fitz's chief of staff and connected to the aforementioned scandal -- and finds the smoking gun in a voting machine's memory card that reveals that the county that propelled the Republican to the White House was indeed rigged.
Meanwhile, Hollis -- the most brazen member of the "secret circle" -- goes into rogue mode after Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) effectively backs Olivia's new (old) boyfriend for a key position in his administration rather than showing his support for Hollis' (Gregg Henry) man.
What followed marked one of the second-year drama's most intense scenes to date when Fitz -- exiting the limo after first lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) suggested they skip the gala she'd forced on him -- went down after gunshots targeted the president and what appeared to be a few key members of his staff and security team.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Bucatinsky to discuss who shot Fitz, how James will go after the story of his career and what going up against the gruesome twosome of Hollis and Cyrus (Jeff Perry) could look like for the enthusiastic journalist.
The Hollywood Reporter: James connects Defiance, Ohio, with David's findings during dinner with the president. How might we see them work together?
Dan Bucatinsky: David and James are kindred spirits. Both have an agenda, both have a strong moral sense. David has for a long time and because James is Cyrus' husband, he does as well. Maybe it's James' desire to be a parent, maybe it's James' roots as a journalist but I definitely feel connected to that part of James that has a strong belief in the truth. It's very interesting to see how it butts up against other people's agendas. David winds up being very eager to make a contact with James and to use this connection to do work that he doesn't feel like he can do.
THR: Is James a hungry journalist or is he doing this to spite Cyrus, who put the kibosh on expanding their family?
Bucatinsky: James has a strong allegiance to his family and a very strong ambition and has these parallel lives. When he and Cyrus got together, they made a deal in a way. James was a very hungry and successful journalist who believed strongly in his ability to write and in the power of the press. He's got this real ambition to crack the kind of story that Woodward and Bernstein did and the notion of a story of the century and cracking something huge. For someone like James, it's either give him the home life he's always dreamed of or give him the professional life he wants. Those two things will butt heads repeatedly and David dangles a carrot that is the story of a century.
THR: James' line between work and home is beyond blurred considering he's lying to his husband repeatedly about where he is and what he's doing.
Bucatinsky: Often times, the characters on this show do whatever they have to do to get what they want and/or need. I don't mean that in a Machiavellian way, except sometimes I do (laughs). Even Olivia Pope, who has a very strong moral center as well but she feels very strongly about doing what she thinks is right, and I think James does, too.
THR: Even if it comes at the expense of his marriage?
Bucatinsky: Right now his eyes are on the short-term. I don't feel like James feels like what he's doing by cracking this story or going after it is wrong. There's that scene in the last episode where he's like, "Did you see? Did you see my story? Front page above the fold." And Cyrus says, "You quoted me in bed." "Yeah. Yeah. I know. Sorry. Front page above the fold. Did you see? Look at that placement." There's this division of, "OK, I did what I had to do but look what I was able to do, aren't you proud of me?" He's not thinking about the long-term consequences. And I don't know if Cyrus is thinking about his long-term consequences, either. I believe that James and Cyrus really love each other and ultimately want to protect one another. I believe James really did want to stop writing stories if it would save his husband's life and/or work. I believe that Cyrus will do whatever he has to do in order to save his husband's life.
THR: Cyrus, as we've seen, can be terrifying if you get on his bad side. Should James be worried for his life considering he's taking on not only Cyrus but psycho Hollis as well?
Bucatinsky: Is James concerned about his life? I don't think so. Is Dan Bucatinsky concerned about James' life? You've got to be worried a little bit. There's some really scary dudes on the show who are all willing to do whatever it takes.
THR: James has figured out that the voting machines were rigged for the presidential election in Fitz's favor. What's his next step?
Bucatinsky: He calls David and feels like he has a partner in David at this point. "You gave me something. As it turns out, it led to a smoking gun and I can't wait to tell you about it." There's going to be a point where the lawyer turned to the reporter and the reporter will turn back to the lawyer to say, "Here's what I have. Don't name me but do what you have to do." James is willing to go there because he believes in the story and the truth. I could imagine wanting the story to come out and have his byline front page above the fold. James isn't afraid of the glory or the limelight or what the consequences bring.
THR: Secrets do not last long on Scandal. How do you think Cyrus will respond once he learns what James has been up to?
Bucatinsky: Oh my God. We have all experienced what Cyrus' wrath is and what he's capable of doing. Knowing James is in the White House press corps, then what he's able to do when he knows he's writing a story about Hollis and how he's willing to try to manipulate James into not doing it anymore. Then you see how tenacious James is, like a dog with a bone, when there's a story. So I can only imagine how Cyrus would react if he knew James was behind the uncovering of the smoking gun.
THR: Who would fare better in the battle of the baddies between Hollis and Cyrus if it ultimately came down to a showdown between the two?
Bucatinsky: Hollis has true evil in him and I don't believe Cyrus does. Maybe it's because James is in love with him that he sees the good in him; there's a real sense of loyalty and he does what he has to do for those he loves. Hollis feels like a very pure, raw nerve of greed, ambition and power.
THR: The episode ends with Fitz going down after a shooting at his birthday gala in a very Reagan-esque scene. How will that impact James' investigation, especially considering he was supposed to attend with Cyrus?
Bucatinsky: It's huge news. James is going to want to cover it. Who was behind it, who was hurt, we don't know. You can imagine the eagerness. How many enemies does a president possibly have? On this show, there are always things that may be linked later on or may be linked right away. But there are definitely enough people who are willing to bring Fitz down. If he gets hurt and what I think is so exciting about the end of the episode is it's scary and it's explosive and yet we know so little. Again, as a journalist you cannot wait to get to your desk to find out.
Who do you think shot Fitz? Do you think James will connect the dots? Hit the comments with your theories. Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.