10:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
A Day in the (Very Busy) Life of Shondaland MVP Tom Verica
Tom Verica wasn't expecting to return to acting.
But that is precisely what happened for one of Scandal's go-to directors.
Verica, a co-executive producer on Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers' Scandal, was busy prepping to direct the third-season finale of the White House drama when his phone rang. The former actor, who was last seen on-screen in a 2010 episode of The Closer, got a call from Rhimes with an offer he couldn't refuse: Playing Viola Davis' husband, Sam, on ABC's rookie hit How to Get Away With Murder. The role marks Verica's latest Shondaland gig following a role as Denny's heart recipient on Grey's Anatomy and directing on Private Practice in addition to acting roles on Boston Legal, The Nine and American Dreams, where he also directed.
"I didn't know how the hell it would work but if I'm playing Viola's husband, it's a dream job if you can make it work," Verica tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The idea was the brainchild of Shondaland's all-star casting director, Linda Lowy, who ran the gig by Verica before taking it to Rhimes to make sure Scandal's go-to producing director would even be opening to returning to his acting roots.
"Shonda came to my office and said, 'I want you to play this part; it's in my head and I see you in this role. You have to play his part!' " Verica recalls, adding with a laugh, "When your boss tells you she'd like you to do something, you go with it — though there was a big part of me that was excited about it since acting is in my blood."
The part has turned into what he calls an elaborate scheduling "dance," as the character has been recurring in a larger capacity than producers and Verica originally anticipated — much to the chagrin of Scandal and Murder's line producers.
"If we had a perfect world, we can do Scandal during the day and Murder at night — that's the optimal thing," Verica explains.
However, it doesn't always work out that way. During production on episode nine of Murder, Verica was also juggling work Scandal's sixth episode of the season, prompting him to run back and forth between both sets on the Sunset Gower lot — as well as Scandal's production offices. To illustrate the demands on Verica — who has been in all of Murder's first nine episodes — THR asked him to document a day in what has become a very intricate balancing act between both shows.
"I remember one situation where I was acting on Murder but had an important production meeting on Scandal before my Murder call time. I went to hair and makeup on Murder for a flashback scene where my character dies and I had this pale, 'dead' makeup on and forgot about it," Verica explains. "I was very pale and went to the Scandal production meeting and people asked if I was OK — they didn't realize I had makeup on!"
To accomplish everything, Verica carefully plots out his schedule the night before — after putting his children to bed. "It's really about prepping and dealing with elements of Scandal that require meetings that happen," he says.
Cast members from both shows constantly grill Verica for spoilers about the other outside the hair and makeup trailer near the Murder stage, which has become a central meeting place for everyone.
"Kerry saw me come out and there was something very identifiable she picked up on," Verica says with a knowing laugh. "She shouted, 'Spoiler!' But there's a lot of camaraderie from both shows; everyone wants to know what's happening and they all watch each other's shows so I have to be careful with content."
As for if Verica's renewed interest in acting will translate to an on-screen role on Scandal, where he's directed 11 episodes and regularly caters to die-hard Gladiators with behind the scenes #PeepingTom photos, that remains to be seen.
"I never say never," he says. "I know everyone so well so it'd be bizarre. Would I be open to it? Sure!"
Scandal and Murder air Thursdays at 9 and 10 p.m., respectively, on ABC.