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Scandal‘s Abby Whelan has found her groove and isn’t looking back. The “perving, sexting, pervy-perv” has a hot new style to match her newfound self-confidence, and actress Darby Stanchfield is having a field day with the material in the third season of ABC’s breakout political drama.
This season, Abby is attempting to pursue a “normal” relationship with David (Josh Malina) while still “Gladiating” full-time — including seeing Olivia Pope & Associates going head-to-head with her boyfriend. The swagger, Stanchfield reveals, is thanks to both her character’s creative direction as well as costume designer Lyn Paolo, who, between seasons two and three, helped kick up Abby’s style a notch.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Stanchfield to discuss Abby’s new look and confidence, romance with David as well as her character’s inner “pervy-perv” that goes back to Scandal‘s memorable slap scene.
Abby has a very sexy and stylish new look this season. What changed between seasons?
It was a combination of both an external drive and an internal storyline drive. It started out with our initial fitting with Lyn Paolo: She really wanted to up the fashion for all of the characters and bring it to another level and define them each more so through style. What we came to in our session was all of these new accessories — Abby wears a lot more jewelry and has more fun with textures and there’s a collection of vintage Chanel belts. We looked at that and went, “If this is happening from the neck down, then the makeup and hair really have to match.” It was either go “wallflower” with Abby or if she really is going to become more stylish, then we need to have her hair and makeup really reflect that more. We went to [showrunner] Shonda [Rhimes] with it and she loved the idea and approved it right away. With Abby’s storyline, since the series started we’ve seen her grow more confident in her personal life. She was always super confident in her work life but in season two, she fell in love. There was one empowering moment that she talks about in the “Seven Fifty-Two” episode in season two — although David’s and Abby’s relationship had gone down the crapper, he did love her and her gut was right. Abby has never trusted her gut; coming from an abusive past, she can be very confused or very beat-up or dysfunctional. The fact that he did truly love her was the feather in her cap of self-confidence. So moving forward, the makeover is also the outward expression of some inner confidence that she’s gained. We’re beginning to see that this season with how she and David have been circling each other and playing cat and mouse a bit. It’s always got to be rooted in story for me. It’s been a fun journey. For any fashionista people who watch, there’s a particularly stunning moment for Abby in this episode where there’s a scene and you see Abby looking in a way she never has before. And there’s another “perving, sexting, pervy-perv” line in this episode that will be added to the wonderful list of zingers that the writers continue to let Abby say.
Do you have a favorite zinger?
“Perving, sexting pervy-perv” may actually be my favorite. “Paige is a whore” (from season one) used to be my favorite. I’ve always really liked “stupid money-grubbing mistress whore” as well, and telling Huck to “beat it, perv” was really funny. That last one has a ring to it, doesn’t it?! (Laughs.)
Abby’s wicked sense of humor — and naughty side — has come out a lot more this season. What’s brought out the “perving, sexting, pervy-perv” in her?
It seems often the ones who are the most buttoned-down or judgmental in the room are the ones who have that side. It makes sense to me about Abby. We started off the series and she’s very tightly wound, judgmental and has built up all these walls but she’s probably the freak in the room! It’s a great combination. We see more here and there; it’s great that she’s not all one thing and that’s what I find so fun about playing Abby — she’s a combo pack of a lot of things and that spiciness is something that we get to see a bit more. Our intro promo shot for Scandal (seen above), ended up being Abby in a raincoat with nothing underneath, looking quite sexy. That’s the Abby that David gets to see and now audiences are getting to see it a bit more after we caught her sexting.
Abby and David are very much on-again right now. Will there continue to be this push and pull going on between them?
Yes. They both clearly can’t stay away from each other and want to be together. But there is a push-pull aspect. Abby is striving for normal and that has something to do with more of her makeover and increased self-confidence — she really wants to put herself out there. Sexting was one of her ways of doing that and revealing who she is and that she’s really going to go for David. There’s a fantastic scene in the next episode for Abby and David. If Abby’s past was like a cookie jar, the lid comes off and we get one more crumb. Something is mentioned and the past comes up. It’s something that leads you to believe the Scandal writers have something up their sleeve. It’s something she’s desperately trying to hide from David and he calls her on it. It’s a heart-wrenching scene and sweet at the same time.
We’ve known that Olivia helped Abby start over after her abusive ex-husband. Might that heart-wrenching and sweet scene have something to do with learning more about him? Could he re-enter the picture at some point?
Possibly, yes! I have that very same question queued up in an e-mail to Shonda. (Laughs.)
How much more about Abby’s backstory will we learn this season? Are there any Abby flashbacks coming?
We haven’t yet, and we just finished episode nine. This next episode feels like something could be cued up at some point. Everybody gets their turn and it cycles through to different people. You’ll get some Harrison (Columbus Short) backstory coming up, which is really exciting. He finally gets put in the hot water a little. I wouldn’t say flashbacks, but the past comes up and the past is in his face. Sometimes the past is shared or told in present tense but not in an exposition way, just in relationships or people who resurface and blackmailing.
Beyond the hiccup that Abby and David have this week, how will we see their relationship progress this season?
Abby really is trying to move beyond her past and she is seeking out normal. They mention it to each other a lot: “Well, normal boyfriends do this,” and “Normal girlfriends do that.” You’re going to hear this word “normal” a lot. These two are really striving to have that with each other. I can’t say because we haven’t gotten there yet, but it feels like it’s a setup for something; the whole thing doesn’t explode or go crazy yet. They’re negotiating with each other to carry on in a relationship; we actually get to see them go on a date and she’s in a dress and he wants to come upstairs — that’s probably the first date they’ve ever been on. It’s more of them trying to be a normal couple as best they can be. Abby may just get another impulse to shove her fingers in his mouth again, you never know! (Laughs.) That goes back to her kinkier side, this sexier and spicier side to Abby this year and a lot of audience members — myself and Josh Malina included — wondered what that scene was about after she shoves her fingers in his mouth after slapping her around. As much as it could be something that was done to her and she’s acting it out or she’s testing him to see if he would hit her back, it might just be something that she’s into. That may be part of her pervy-perv side! (Laughs.) That’s what’s great about Scandal, there’s a little something for everybody!
Poor David can’t ever seem to catch a break in court. Will his losing streak against OPA be an obstacle for them?
“Poor David” was trending worldwide! (Laughs.) That relationship gets worked and it gets worked and it gets worked. He keeps getting used. Abby is working that angle and she’s very loyal to Olivia and you see more Olivia-Abby moments going forward that are really fantastic about their friendship and their loyalty and how awkward it is for them to express emotions. Abby works that connection with David; as much as they’re trying to be a normal couple, some of the time they work on opposite sides of the tracks and Abby drives over there and asks for more. It’s yet to explode and it feels like it’s something teeing up, but you never know.
Quinn (Katie Lowes) is embracing Huck’s darker side. Will Abby and the rest of OPA recognize that and what can they do at this point?
You have no idea what kind of trouble Quinn is about to get herself into. It’s one big dysfunctional family and they don’t all get along and they don’t all have the same points of view, but they’re all still at the dinner table. That continues to be the case but there are definitely some food fights at the table about where she’s going.
What do you think of the sexy new Abby? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
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