'Scandal's' Darby Stanchfield on "Badass" Abby — and a Potential New Love Interest

"It's a very empowering moment for Abby," the actress tells THR of Abby's encounter with her abusive ex-husband
ABC/Eric McCandless

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 407, "Baby Made a Mess," of ABC's Scandal.]

ABC's Scandal put the spotlight on Abby Whelan's past, introducing her oft-mentioned but never-before-seen abusive ex-husband Charles during Thursday's episode.

As luck would have it, Charles (Battlestar Galactica's Michael Trucco) winds up running for a newly opened Senate seat, with Leo (Paul Adelstein) calling the shots. Charles' entry into the race naturally ruffles Abby's (Darby Stanchfield) feathers, and she's effectively forced to reveal why: He is her ex-husband and responsible for breaking her jaw and fracturing three of her ribs in a drunken rage. (It was that abuse that united Abby and Olivia.)

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What transpires is nothing short of a miracle for the Leo, who as VP Sally Langston's (Kate Burton) campaign manager, was a total weasel. Leo leaks Charles' political misdeeds to the press, and he's forced to drop out of the race. (Leo's ultimate reward becomes a very unexpected smooch with Abby, who is beyond charmed by his chivalry.)

And that's when things get interesting. Charles confronts Abby and is beyond dismissive about the horrible things he has done to her in the past. It prompts Abby to go full badass and pull out a gun. She reveals that if he comes near her again, she'll reveal everything he did to her. It's an epic scene that continues to show Abby's gusto and wherewithal as the character continues to remain one of the most outspoken and fierce (former) Gladiators on the series.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Stanchfield to discuss "badass" Abby, what her kiss with Leo means for a future with David (Josh Malina) and if pulling a gun will have a long-term impact on her character.

You got to point a gun at your ex and tell him off! Talk about that comeuppance.

It's a very empowering moment for Abby. The only time you see her take a gun out on somebody is because Huck (Guillermo Diaz) or someone tells her she needs to guard the spies when we had that superspy episode at OPA. But this gun allows her to say what she really thinks about this guy. So behind the pointing of the gun, you also get this really frank speech about what she really thinks about him. The thing that I discovered about Abby, which is surprising, is I always thought Abby would be this badass with her gun. And there's way more conflict going on with Abby about using a gun. [Showrunner] Shonda Rhimes rewrote the scene where Abby talks about having crossed over. She pulled out her gun and everything, and she feels the adrenaline, and it feels good that she wanted to kill Charles, but she's clearly struggling with that. It's not so clear-cut, like Abby is this badass and she's using her gun as revenge. It's way more layered than that. That's been really fun to discover.

Will she struggle with the fact that she pulled a gun on her ex?

She does struggle in that moment. He gets away, so we'll see if that moment comes up again. Is it like Huck with his whiskey? If Abby gets in a confrontational situation where she's emotional again, will she just whip out her gun? Will that be easier? The more that Shonda writes this character, the more I realize that she bought that gun because of Charles. It's not because she's a Gladiator or because she works with Huck and Quinn (Katie Lowes)—it was a protection device. Abby's relationship with guns is much different than a lot of the other characters on the show. I'll be curious to see if it evolves or not. It's fun we're exploring her past this year.

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Were you surprised to see Abby and Leo kiss?

There were hints of it last season, so when producers called Paul back in, I had a feeling. But the way it ties in with her ex-husband was surprising. It's surprising for Leo's character, too, because he's such a scumbag. He's a bit of a weasel. So it was a chivalrous moment for him when he tanks Charles' campaign. That was pretty unpredictable to me — and quite charming.

Does Abby know he's a weasel? Or is she too caught up in this moment to see Leo for who he is?

She didn't really see him managing Sally Langston's campaign because she was at OPA. The time she's had with Leo has really been about this banter back and forth, and I think she's attracted to his wit and humor. But Abby doesn't have a really good track record with men. Leo doesn't have a moral compass. David has more of a moral compass, and that seems like a more predictable or linear fit.

Is there something more to that kiss with Leo or is it just that?

I'm suspecting it's a fling. I do think that all roads ultimately lead back to David Rosen when I think about the kind of man he is and the kind of woman Abby is. I think they have so much in common.  Leo doesn't seem like a settle down kind of person to me.

So you're optimistic that Abby and David have a romantic future?

Josh said to me when we came back this season, "Two episodes, tops" [before they were back together.] I told him I thought it would be longer. These writers continue to surprise me. But at this point, I say no. But you never know. (Laughing.)

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Beyond this episode, Abby doesn't seem to have a lot of power at the White House. Will that change?

She reminds me of Quinn in season one, when she was working at OPA — there's something very much about her being the new kid on the block and earning her stripes. She's stepping in it a lot, and she doesn't necessarily know the rules. I mean, she gets called Gabby and Red. But she's earning her way.

I loved when Abby put Mellie in her place.

She has her moments of victory. She's been trained really well by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). You get to see that Abby is capable and smart on her own as well. And she has a good instinct. Although it's different than Olivia's, there are some ways in which they work the same. But I also love that Abby confronts Olivia with the morality of it all. Abby still continues to have this moral compass about what's right and wrong, and that hasn't somehow been deluded. She may be the only one left! Maybe David Rosen, but not quite as much as Abby.

How long can Abby stay in the White House with so little to do?

What do you mean so little to do—she's press secretary! (Laughing.) Honestly, every time we get a script, I'm looking to see if Abby has been fired or something by Cyrus (Jeff Perry)! There are so many messes going on in the White House, she does get to exercise a little bit of a fixer aspect, so I don't think that Abby is bored yet. She also steps beyond her duties as her relationship develops with the president, and they get more comfortable with each other ,and he learns her name, for instance. She starts to speak her mind. The Abby-ness, the no filter starts to come out, and I think that might be her demise more than anything.

Scandal airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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