After a relatively short stint, Scandal‘s Khandi Alexander has made quite the impression on ABC’s political thriller. After being cast as Olivia’s mother, Maya Pope, the Treme actress’ character was presumed dead, a casualty on a commercial flight that the president was ordered to shoot down — by her then-husband. Then, the Shonda Rhimes drama revealed that there was one passenger to survive — a guy named Omar, who in reality was none other than Maya Pope, who is being held in a maximum-security prison under orders from the head of B613.
This week, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) & Associates will continue their search for the link to the crash as the Gladiators work frantically to understand why Rowan (Joe Morton) would order Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) to destroy a commercial airliner with more than 300 civilians on board.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Alexander to preview what’s ahead for the mother of all Gladiators.
How early did you know what Maya Pope’s arc was going to be? Did you know all along that Maya was alive?
I got a call from executive producer Mark Wilding, who said, “You’re Mama Pope, and we can’t tell you anything and you can’t tell anybody!” I didn’t know anything about her.
Rowan is keeping Maya in a maximum-security prison. What can you say about the why of it all? What kind of glimpse into their relationship will we get?
We’re going to learn more about Maya’s past. The hope is we get to see Joe with that mustache and Afro from the 1970s! (Laughs.)
What lengths will Maya go to in order to see her daughter?
Rowan is a very dangerous man and that’s always a force to be reckoned with. You can’t underestimate him. So someone who has been incarcerated as long as she has, doesn’t have a lot of options. So we’ll see.
What kind of marriage did they have? Our theory is that they were both intelligence officers.
Sometimes in relationships like that, there can only be one star. Sometimes there’s not room for both. You see how he pushes everyone around, and I think Rowan’s ego would be too big to have room for all that.
After 20 years behind bars, how damaged is Maya?
In exploring all the aspects of this character, I did some research to find out what that would be like for the people who have actually done that. There are some people who are able to transcend the isolation and become stronger in who they are and their character. I believe Maya has done just that, if not strengthened her anger. The anger itself is a motive for her to hold on to her sanity.
What would a reunion with Olivia look like? Would she want a relationship with her mother?
I don’t even know if she could ever get through Rowan! I think Olivia has a lot on her plate! (Laughs.) But we will learn more about Maya’s past and her relationship with Olivia.
How much of Maya’s imprisonment is because of something she did vs. Rowan protecting Operation Remington?
That’s hard to say — you can’t second-guess Rowan. He’s always going to be three steps ahead of everyone else. I hope viewers will be as surprised as they were at the end of last week’s episode when they found out she was alive.
What has surprised you most about Maya?
The fact that she’s in control of her mind after being in prison and isolated for such a long time. I can’t say I’m surprised by her anger. I would think a person would be angry if her your husband threw her in prison. That scene reminds me of The Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn when he banishes her. That surprised me. It surprised me she was even alive, to be honest!
Everyone right now is trying to take down B613 — Jake, Huck, Olivia and Fitz. How could Maya help bring down the organization?
I don’t know if Maya will ever be able to. I don’t know if that’s her function or if she’ll ever be able to do that in any way since she’s in a real maximum security prison. But we’ll get more pieces to the Remington puzzle.
Are you on Twitter? Have you participated in the live tweets?
I’m in Boston doing a play so I’m not in the bubble, but people tell me about it. I’m not on Twitter, but Joe keeps telling me how much he enjoys it. When I get back to L.A., I have to be a part of it. I’m glad the fans are excited.
What are you looking forward to seeing from Mama Pope? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Scandal airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.