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The Washington, D.C.-set political thriller packs in dialogue like a Shakespeare play, with pages upon pages of monologues for its cast of Gladiators and politicians alike. The rapid-fire pace injects an urgency that comes with “fixing” the unthinkable circumstances for Olivia Pope & Associates’ clients, ranging from senators to the president of the United States.
And nobody is better at it than co-star Katie Lowes, whose Quinn Perkins has served as the gateway into the world of Gladiators.
“A lot of other shows, you can sit and receive the information and process and make an acting choice and then say your line. But on Scandal, you’re speaking before your brain has the time to process or think because we’re always up against a time crunch,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Shonda has created a whole world where we’re constantly against the clock. It adds to the audience’s anxiety, and they feel the pressure we feel — and it adds to the excitement.”
Lowes, a fourth-generation New Yorker, says she was born with the ability to speak so quickly and, before booking Scandal, had been told her entire life to slow down.
“Shonda was the first person ever in my life who told me to speak faster. My audition was the Quinn-Harrison scene in the bar — the first scene of the pilot — and I remember Shonda looking at her watch and in between takes being like, ‘Katie you did the last take faster. You can shave off 30 seconds,’ ” Lowes recalls. “I’ve never been encouraged to go at lightning pace, and it’s a totally different beat than anything I’ve ever worked on before.”
Lowes studied at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, where she trained doing tons of Shakespeare monologues in addition to voice and speech class five days a week for four years at New York University. She uses lessons from both as warm-ups to prepare for the Scandal Pace.
“If it’s Monday morning at 6 a.m. and you’re about to crack a case and you haven’t warmed up your mouth, tongue and lips to wrap around all of Shonda’s words, you’re just f—ed!” Lowes says with a laugh. “On Scandal, a lot of these monologues are Shakespearean, and it’s the same principle as Shakespeare, where you make it sound like this is how you speak every day. That’s the same secret on Scandal; you talk as fast as you can with all your acting choices in place. You make it seem like it’s not a thing; it’s just the rule of the world.”
To help memorize her lines — which often include multiple-page monologues — Lowes walks around her neighborhood or hits the treadmill with headphones on, recording half of the scene onto her iPhone and then walking as fast as she can, quietly saying all the lines in her head.
“When I work on scenes in a class or something, if I forget a line or I don’t know what line is next, I can almost fudge it and make a dramatic moment out of it so I remember it and pretend like that was a choice — but you can’t do that on Scandal,” she says, noting that there isn’t any room for improv on the series. “There’s no room for error or not making choices. You have to know the text inside and out. You have to be word perfect, and your acting choices have to be made.”
On set, the cast is always drilling lines with each other during turnarounds or on breaks, often getting fired up to prepare for the Scandal Pace. “If we’re Gladiating something, we’ll run the scene a bunch of times,” Lowes says. “We’re always running lines because all of our acting choices need to be in place so they can move at the speed at which we’re talking. We run lines more than I’ve run lines for anything else.”
And if something isn’t working, Lowes says she and co-stars, including two-time Emmy nominee Kerry Washington (Olivia) and Darby Stanchfield (Abby), will clap or bang on a piece of furniture to get ramped up and actually yell, “Scandal Pace!” at each other. “All of the sudden, the scene just flies, and you can feel the energy, the pace and the Washington, D.C., world.”
Another of the cast’s secrets to speaking like a Gladiator? Walking around in their characters’ shoes. “We rehearse in the heels because it adds so much to how you stand, how your stomach is and how your body is, and that all affects how you breathe, which affects how fast you can talk,” Lowes says.
As for tips on how to speak like a Gladiator, Lowes jokes that it’s good to “drink a crapload of coffee” and look like one. “You should definitely get your Gladiator in a suit — then get some power boots or heels. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk. It all helps,” she says with a laugh.
While Lowes is regularly regarded as the fastest talker on the show, the actress thinks Brenda Song — who played David’s (Josh Malina) assistant, Alissa, could go neck and neck with her. “She’s really fast, but I think there’s nothing like those Gladiator scenes where we’re working a case,” she says, noting Washington is right up there. “When we’re at OPA over that conference table putting pieces of the puzzle together and all the pictures on the wall, we’re up against a ticking clock, and we all need each other to get through the scene as humanly as possible. And that’s exciting.”
Season four of Scandal, which Rhimes says will focus on the core cast and return to the-case-of-the-week format, premieres Thursday, Sept. 25, in its new time slot at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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