- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Tony Goldwyn admits that after seven seasons playing Scandal‘s Byronically romantic President Fitzgerald Grant, a one-episode guest stint on HBO’s horror series Lovecraft Country, as the menacing, aristocratic white supremacist/occultist Samuel Braithwhite, offered an opportunity to tap some less frequently summoned acting skills.
“It was very operatic, that character, so you don’t often get to do that on television, or in front of a camera,” Goldwyn recalls, noting a key scene in which he had to shout a mystic incantation in an invented dialect at the top of his lungs. “I had to learn, phonetically, this runic language, this whole long chunk of this spell that I was casting. And that was fun and interesting, and a muscle I had not flexed for some time.”
Goldwyn, who since Scandal wrapped has appeared in multiple Broadway productions and next headlines National Geographic’s miniseries The Hot Zone: Anthrax, joined THR to reflect on flexing those new muscles after Fitz, Lovecraft‘s unexpected immediacy, and his earliest TV acting guest stints on a string of now-classic series.
What kind of permission did the unusual genre-bending nature of the show give you as an actor?
Playing a to-the-manner-born white supremacist, who’s this sort of Gothic figure … you had to lean into the camp of it, the genre. But the way that guy’s mind works is representing something profoundly real and disturbing in our culture and human nature.
When you meet my character, he’s un-anesthetized, getting a piece of his liver cut out on a table in his lab, screaming bloody murder. And then Jonathan Majors enters the room, and [Braithwhite] says, “Oh, he’s darker than I [expected]” … That kind of a statement is shocking, and yet also camp, if you know what I’m saying. It’s larger than life, but tragically all too close to life, as we have seen this year, really. And that’s what’s so weird: Not that racism wasn’t a familiar concept in American culture, but we shot that in 2019, and the events of 2020 sort of exposed how close to the surface all that still is.
To see it come out at such a charged moment, immediately following the Black Lives Matter protests, when it achieved even greater degrees of relevance and immediacy, must have been a unique experience.
Slightly surreal, honestly. It was very disturbing. It’s very discomforting … When I read it, it felt dangerous and relevant and provocative, but also fun. When I saw it, it was still entertaining, but there was a much darker sensibility to the fun aspect of it, if you know what I mean. And honestly, for me personally, now that I’m reflecting on it … embodying a white supremacist was a very different experience in 2020 than it was in 2019. There was something where I could feel that I was at an arm’s length from it. Whereas now, there’s been a seismic shift, and it would be, frankly, much harder to do — which makes me feel a bit silly, because of course that’s my reality, and I think the reality for African Americans is not that different. People are like, “Yeah, wake up!” Which is what Misha [Green] was writing about, but the world has a very different lens on it now.
After several seasons on a hit TV show in a regular role, what have you enjoyed about these briefer excursions? Fitz was such a complex character — he could be dark, he could be someone you rooted for — that the role doesn’t saddle you, the actor, with a lot of typecasting baggage.
I really loved playing Fitz, for the reasons you said … He was so complicated and had so many light and dark shades that made him just endlessly fun to play. And I’d never had the experience of living in a character for that long.
But that said, since Scandal ended, I’ve played five, six, seven different roles, all so different, from Samuel Braithwhite to the shows I did on Broadway … And the project I’m doing now for Nat Geo, The Hot Zone — the character I’m playing could not be more different from Fitz. It’s wonderful [after] going to work every day and playing the same character and literally wearing the same suit every day for seven years to just go to completely different places.
When you were starting out, you took the jobs that came your way, as actors do, and a lot of those were guest spots on future TV classics. What do you remember about those years? And what it was like to step onto a series as a young, up-and-coming actor?
First of all, I was just grateful to have a job! I mean, I still am, but when you’re starting out, just any work you can get is good work. And also, it was a way to learn about acting in front of a camera, because I started working in the theater, and the camera was very foreign to me.
I did a bunch of those guest star things in shows in the ’80s, from sitcoms to dramas and cop shows and whatever: Matlock and Designing Women and the pilot of Murphy Brown, and I did — oh God — a show called Hunter, do you remember that? And then a couple of things that had more meat. St. Elsewhere was actually where I got my SAG card … I did L.A. Law, too. I had a pretty good part in that.
I imagine this is true for people today still: It’s a rather difficult thing, because you’re coming onto a show, where everybody knows the show and everybody does this thing every day, and you’re kind of parachuting in to give your performance and play this character. And you don’t know anybody in it. It can be very challenging. And eventually, after you’re more experienced, you learn to relax, but that I found very difficult.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day