'Scandal's' Jon Tenney on Mellie and Andrew: Pandora's Box Has Been Opened
The actor talks with THR about romancing the first lady, her secrets from Fitz and what's ahead on ABC's political thriller.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Scandal's "We Do Not Touch the First Ladies" episode.]
ABC's Scandal peeled back the layers between vice presidential candidate Andrew (Jon Tenney) and first lady Mellie Grant on Thursday with an eventful hour that shed light not only on their past but one that puts their futures in question.
During the episode, someone -- presumably Rowan (Joe Morton) -- leaks that Andrew may have had a drug problem. With OPA on the case, Olivia realizes that he was covering for Mellie (Bellamy Young). The political thriller again makes the most of its flashbacks and reveals that Mellie retreated physically and emotionally from Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) after his father, Jerry, raped her to the point where she attempted suicide, swallowing the drugs that put Andrew's political future in question.
It turns out Andrew not only lied then to cover for her but saved the then-governor's wife after she attempted suicide. Rather than accept a snarky thank you from a bitter Mellie, Andrew pushes her to open up. That opens the floodgates and Mellie reveals everything to Andrew: the rape and that her son -- Jerry Jr.! -- may not be Fitz's. It leads to a tender moment between the duo and Andrew makes a move on Mellie, who -- still in flashback -- refuses his advances.
Cut to present day and moments after Mellie puts Olivia (Kerry Washington) in her place after the top Gladiator insists that the first lady shut down whatever is brewing between Mellie and Andrew, Mrs. Grant plants an epic smooch on her husband's running mate.
Elsewhere, Jake (Scott Foley) -- and Olivia! -- learns the hard way that Quinn (Katie Lowes) might really be cut out for B613. Harrison (Columbus Short) makes a hefty donation to the Grant campaign using dirty money from Adnan Salif (Nazanin Boniadi), who it turns out, is working for Mama Pope (Khandi Alexander). Not to be outdone, James (Dan Bucatinsky) nearly gets David (Josh Malina) kidnapped when Cyrus (Jeff Perry) comes this close to catching his husband leaking details connecting vice president Sally Langston (Kate Burton) to the slaying of her husband.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Tenney to discuss that kiss, Andrew's loyalties and what the VP candidate might do now that he's privy to the White House's intimate secrets.
Mellie kissed Andrew! Despite her best efforts, what changed in her?
We've been waiting for that kiss for a long time! Andrew and Mellie obviously have this connection in the past and then our lives went separate ways. There was an undeniable connection that wasn't acted on, so when we come into proximity again, all that is rehashed. That -- coupled with Mellie's current situation and emotional turmoil in her relationship with Fitz -- we're re-meeting her at a very vulnerable time in her life heightens the stakes even more. All that pressure built up and here she's with a guy who is listening to her, who loves, respects and wants to know about her. That's something she really wants. That was the connection they shared in the beginning, even though they didn't act on it in the past. There was a real bonding between them. He was a confidant to her. Bellamy and I talked a lot about what our history was and we imagined that they really shared a lot of emotional intimacy, even though it may not have been physical in the past. She tried to kill herself and he talked her through that.
How will the kiss change the dynamic between Mellie and Andrew?
It really sets a lot into motion. Once that Pandora's Box is opened just the slightest, then you can't go back. The train has left the station and you will definitely be hurdling down the tracks. Coming up, Andrew and Mellie will help prepare Fitz for the presidential debate. As the re-election campaign escalates, our work life necessitates Andrew, Mellie and Fitz spending more time together. The fire is really getting fueled!
Could Andrew and Mellie's relationship damage Fitz's re-election campaign if it were to go public?
Andrew is a politician who loves what he does, is ambitious and wants to be vice president. He has a long history with Fitz, and he also really loves Mellie. It's back and forth and an incredible source of conflict. But as things go forward, people will start learning other things about each other; Andrew will learn about Fitz, Fitz about Andrew. A lot of stuff will be unearthed.
Mellie told Olivia that they're not the same -- and then proceeded to kiss Andrew. How will we see her respond to her actions?
I love that scene. Olivia really felt that she had something they could relate on with Mellie and Mellie draws that line and says, "Don't even begin to compare your situation to my situation." It then goes into that moment that you see between Andrew and Mellie where you're at that moment where it's, "Do we have this affair or do we not have this affair" back in the past and she chooses not to and says good night. You get to see that moment where the decision was made, which is so great juxtaposed to the scene before it.
Where do they go from here? Will Mellie return to this? Might Andrew pursue her romantically?
We will definitely continue to explore whatever this chemistry is between the two of them. That moment in front of all those first ladies where we just have a little bit of a kiss -- the flood gates are open and the train has left the station. You can't shut Pandora's Box once it's open.
Could Andrew have second thoughts about their romantic relationship now that he's narrowly avoided being tossed off the ticket?
He also was willing to throw himself on his sword. He was a stand-up guy in a lot of ways in this episode; he was trying to protect Mellie and didn't want any of her past to come out. Even when he was confronted with the fact that he could be removed from the ticket, he was willing to take the fall for it. He confides with Mellie and says that she needs someone to support and protect her. He recognizes this horrible situation she's in with Fitz. I love in this episode where it's not spoken directly but right before that kiss happens, he brings up Olivia and says, "You don't seem to like her very much, but Fitz likes her." He's very perceptive as to what's going on between Olivia and Fitz. Over time, you're going to see Andrew learn more about what Fitz is about and that will start changing his own perception of things.
Andrew knows things that Fitz doesn't: That Jerry raped her and that her son, Jerry Jr., may not be Fitz's child. How much of what has transpired in the White House in the years since will she tell him?
When you get together with childhood friends, for example, there's an intimacy that you instantly have because you share something really profound in your past. There's a shortcut to emotional intimacy if you share your past with somebody. It's really empowering when you're reunited with people who share that. The fact that Andrew knows these emotional secrets about Mellie empowers him. He feels, in some ways, emboldened by that. When push comes to shove, Andrew thinks he really knows this woman in a way that Fitz doesn't. And Mellie knows that he knows those things as well, so it may go both ways.
As Andrew learns more about who the new Fitz is, would Andrew be tempted to tell the president his wife has endured for his political career?
He's no fool, that Andrew. None of that is lost on him. Fitz and Andrew's relationship will definitely grow and morph.
Andrew also has picked up on Fitz's affection for Olivia -- how much will he be privy to? Could he be a voice of reason for Fitz?
There are a lot of things pushing Andrew in a lot of different directions. He's a stand-up guy. When you first meet him, and Olivia is interrogating him and pushes him about why he isn't married, what I thought was so key is when he loses his temper a bit and confesses that someone -- Mellie -- got away. He says, "The one thing I do know is that I am not going to marry somebody I don't love." He puts a value on love. What's interesting is that the struggle that Olivia is in, between her love and her work and an acceptable relationship and an unacceptable relationship and the whole thing that's so central to this battle between Fitz and Olivia, is something that Andrew understands -- whether he's conscious of it all the time or not. It's an interesting parallel -- here you have Olivia telling Mellie that she can't pursue her heart and who is Olivia talking to? Is she talking to herself? To Mellie? To both? It's interesting how that dovetails with each other.
A member of the secret service is B613's mole in the White House. Could Andrew and Mellie's romantic relationship go public?
No one was in that room when they had that first kiss. But it's a dangerous situation, it's a tightrope that they're walking and they both know that. There are a lot of hushed conversations in hallways and moments in corners that are very carefully thought out.
Would you be interested in returning for Scandal's likely fourth season?
I adore this whole company and am having the time of my life, so I'll just say that.
What did you think of Andrew and Mellie's romantic pairing? Do you think Mellie should go for it? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Scandal airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.