'Scandal's' Tony Goldwyn: The President Is Worth Rooting For

The actor tells THR that Fitz is "human and he's made some real mistakes in his personal life that the audience will find out about as the first season develops but all of those things add up to him being a really good leader."
"Scandal's" Tony Goldwyn

Things are only going to get worse before they star getting better for Scandal's President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).

The hot water that the leader of the free world is in is about to get hotter as a reporter is hot on the trail of his alleged affair that is driving a wedge between Fitz and his chief of staff, Cyrus (Jeff Perry). In addition, Fitz's relationship with the love of his life, Olivia (Kerry Washington), is growing more complicated by the day as the D.C.-set political fixer takes on Fitz's alleged mistress, Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil), as a client.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Goldwyn to discuss what kind of leader Fitz is, how worried he is about Olivia working with Amanda and examine the president's complicated relationships with the first lady and his loyal chief of staff.

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The Hollywood Reporter: How does Fitz feel about Olivia taking Amanda on as a client?
Tony Goldwyn:
He feels very conflicted about it because in one sense he has a tremendous amount of self-recrimination about ever allowing a situation like this to develop, and it's much more complicated than audiences know yet. Part of it is that he feels like he's been a fool. On the other hand, he feels heartbroken because Olivia won't speak to him, and he feels betrayed by Olivia. Something Fitz will say over and over again to Olivia as the season goes on is, "You know me." He feels that she knows him better than anybody and she has lost faith in him. He feels as if that's not fair because she doesn't have all the facts and her anger, pride and heart has gotten in the way of her judgment. His feelings are very complicated about it.

How worried is he?
Olivia is a formidable foe; she's not someone you want on the other side. Olivia's a pit bull; she doesn't quit. Cyrus criticizes Fitz for being an idealist -- of leading with his heart -- which he ultimately does. It's a great quality but also gets him into a lot of trouble. At the bottom of his heart, he has some faith that Olivia will ultimately see the truth of him eventually, but the house may have to burn down in the process, so it's terrifying.

Where does this trust that he has with Olivia come from and was it always so easy?
It came through conflict. Olivia is an utterly uncompromising individual who is honest and leads from her gut. That's what Fitz fell in love with. From his first interaction with her -- which was a hostile one that you'll see in a later episode -- she blew his mind. He was very impressed with her and came to rely on her as a strategist more than anybody, even more than Cyrus.

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How much does Fitz trust Cyrus? How will Cyrus knowing that Fitz is in love with Olivia influence how he feels about the president?
He trusts Cyrus completely but they see the world slightly differently. Cyrus is a tactician and ultimately puts his heart aside in order to do what's most effective, and Fitz is the inverse of that. It's why they're a good team because they rescue each other from those tendencies. Fitz knows that Cyrus has a somewhat different worldview than him, and that's where they depart. He trusts him but he could not confide in him about Olivia. He wouldn't tell anybody about his feelings for Olivia, but Cyrus wouldn't have understood, so it wouldn't have been safe.

But Fitz tells him anyway.
It's a big step in the relationship that is necessary because Cyrus is so deeply hurt that Fitz has not trusted him in that scene where Cyrus says, "Obviously there's other people. You did this because you don't trust me anymore." Fitz knows he has to let Cyrus in, and he's been very protective. Fitz really compartmentalized his life in very dangerous ways, so that scene in the Oval Office at the end of [Episode 2] is a big step in their relationship where Fitz confesses something to Cyrus that's really big between friends. It's like a real step in their friendship and Cyrus embraces him.

You've mentioned that Fitz is this idealist. Is he a good leader? What makes him worth rooting for because the evidence is starting to stack up against him.
He's human and he's made some real mistakes in his personal life that the audience will find out about as the first season develops but all of those things add up to him being a really good leader. He says in a later episode that he got into the job to help people and he has a very strong sense of purpose about that. Whatever failings he may have as a man, he is uncompromising in his leadership style and he is willing to suffer politically for what he thinks is right and is in the best interest of the country. He comes up against a lot of people who are not happy with Fitz. He's quite tough, but it's all because he leads from his heart.

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How would you characterize his relationship with the first lady, Mellie (Bellamy Young)? How much does she really know about his relationship with Olivia?
You'll find out everything about that and it's an important component in their relationship. Mellie and Fitz suffer from what a lot of very powerful couples who have very high-intensity jobs: it's rough maintaining a connected relationship in these circumstances? Mellie is a very ambitious woman and is very committed to Fitz's career and to Fitz and loved him. But they've struggled personally because as you ultimately find out they see the world in different ways and it's been a real challenge to their marriage.

We've Mellie back Olivia before when she says, "If you've got a problem, put Olivia on it." How much of the trust between them will we explore in the upcoming episodes?
You'll really get to know Mellie's relationship with Liv and much more about Mellie's relationship with the president. Mellie has tremendous respect for Olivia and knows how effective she can be. What Mellie knows and doesn't know is something that will come out in a very interesting way. Mellie is like Cyrus: she's a real strategist and a practical woman who's able to differentiate between what she's struggling with personally and the demands of their relationship that is a real partnership -- a business partnership.

Their marriage is a business partnership?
Well it's the thing they struggle with. They want to be a successful marriage. They work hard at it, but it's very challenging. They're also raising kids. Look at any couple in that situation, whether it's the Obamas or the Clintons: It's so hard. Everything is held under a microscope and you don't spend enough time together and there's just a lot of competing interests that make it very tough to have a successful marriage and very vulnerable to outside forces. It's a terrible thing to be in a committed marriage and fall in love with someone outside of your marriage. Fitz, as he said to Cyrus, 'She's the love of my life.' That's a painful spot to be in, and it's true.

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What's the nature of Fitz's relationship with the vice president (played by Grey's Anatomy's Kate Burton)?
Fitz is a very moderate Republican; he's like the Neo of the Neo-Cons. It's like an antidote to the Neo-Con movement, where there's sort of a progressive Republican who's trying to move the party back to the center to where it used to be and his vice president was his opponent, rather like Clinton and Obama were. They had a very tough primary fight, and she's a very right-wing Republican, so he appealed to the right-wing base in order to get elected, but she's a very formidable woman who's super smart. She was a senator and very powerful but really conservative. It creates a lot of tension in the White House.

We've also met Billy, the vice president's devoted chief of staff who knows that Cyrus and Olivia are feuding. Should Fitz be worried?
Eventually it's a bit of an issue, but Billy's a really smart guy and seems to be a real team player. Billy has demonstrated an ability to really be a team player. Even if he works for someone who is often my political opponent, Fitz -- like Lincoln -- assemble a team of rivals.

Will things get better for Fitz or will they get worse first?
Oh, they'll just get worse. Fitz has a rocky ride ahead of him, that's for sure.

Do you think President Grant is worth rooting for? Do you trust him? Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit