'Scandal': Darby Stanchfield on Abby's Olivia Pope moment, the explosive finale

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Image Credit: Ron Tom/ABC

Abby was in her best white-coat form in last week’s episode of Scandal, and channeling the Gladiators’ nerves-of-steel leader was even more fun than it seemed for Darby Stanchfield.

“It was definitely a whole new area for Abby,” says the actress. “Her résumé is growing in the last few episodes.” As it will continue to do. This week, she will hopefully add “explosion stopper” to her list of skills, as a bomb in the hands of Maya Pope threatens to go kaboom on top of the president of the United States (Tony Goldwyn).

In the Q&A below, Stanchfield breaks down last week’s episode and teases what comes next, as Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and Associates try to handle one of their most dangerous situations yet.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to start with the most recent episode — do you think this political work is something Abby’s genuinely enjoying?
DARBY STANCHFIELD:
Yes, I do. As we saw [last week], she had a rough start. She metaphorically spilled red wine all over her white coat — everyone called her Gabby, no one listened. But by the end, she had some victory. She one-upped Leo and saved the day. Now it’s a two-candidate race. So now it’s a huge victory, and in that scene at the end, she Olivia Popes Olivia Pope. So the fact that Abby wins a little bit in her professional life in this new area is incredibly enjoyable. I think it’s satisfying. She’s gaining confidence quickly even though it’s new ground. It also, I think, tells the story that Abby is fiercely loyal to Olivia because as we know, Abby hates Republicans. She’s a staunch democrat. She’s probably love to see a woman in the office. She’s already been snarky about this all-male surfer dude ticket. But she keeps it mostly together when she’s in the White House. She just does her little snark to Reston on the TV screen but you know, she’s, I think, genuinely enjoying it and giving it a shot. I think even donning the white coat and dressing like Olivia was her attempting to take it seriously and do her best.

Was that something you worked closely with Lyn Paolo [the show's costume designer] on?
Of course. Lyn came to me and she said, “Darby, we’ve got to do this. We’ve got to put you in Olivia clothes.” So we had a whole proper fitting of trying on these beautiful white coats. We tried on three of four and we finally decided on the Escada. We were going to go with something a little more of an overcoat, like a trench. And then we decide to go with something just slightly softer because that makes it a little more Abby. Abby has gotten so feminine this year. And I think with her being so new at it, we wanted it to be a little bit of both [of them]. Abby even had a gold ring on her index finger. She was fully Olivia.

Was that in the script?
It wasn’t. The necklace was Lyn’s idea. And I have this collection of rings in my trailer and I though, “Oh, that’s the ticket right there. Go all the way. Wear that gold ring.” Fans on Twitter did not miss it, which is thrilling that people are paying that close attention. But between Lyn and I, we had so much fun.

So in [tonight's] new episode, we’re obviously going to deal with this bomb. How does Abby play a role in that?
Well, there are a couple of things. B613 just got powered down, and Jake comes in and says, “You just killed the president.” So in typical Scandal fashion, the Gladiators are in a juggling act. We have many balls in the air. Not only are they trying to find a bomb, but they’re trying to clean up the damage from shutting down B613. There is a mess. AND they’re trying to win the election. And then there’s other drama with Huck and Quinn and Harrison. It’s a mess, which is going to make for great TV. And one thing I can tell you, Sandra, is that you go in there thinking, “OK, they have to find this bomb. That’s what the episode is going to be about.” But we have a mess at the end of [the last] episode that actually turns into a bigger mess by the end of the new episode. It’s not cleaned up, it’s just worse.

Who would of thought that one day you’d essentially be able to say that Abby and David were the stable ones? 
[Laughs] Let me just say, after last season of shoving my fingers in his mouth and smacking him around that I never ever ever thought that could happen. But you’re right. They ARE the most stable couple? I mean, Abby has her butterfly sheets on David’s bed. They have little rules. “We don’t lie to each other.” They love each other. So it is, it’s a bright ray of sun in a very dark and cloudy Scandal season, which is fun for the overall composition of the show.

Does that last through the end of the season?
Pretty much, yes. But I do have to say, there are some cracks in the boat. They’re still on the boat, it’s still floating, it’s still looking good, but they might spring a leak.

What can you say about the finale? Multiple cliffhangers, I hear.
Yes! I don’t know why I feel compelled to talk in metaphors…but to give you another metaphor, if it’s a chess game, there are huge moves made. Checkmate moves. I, honestly, in the season finale, while we were filming it, I was looking around this one particular set — and it doesn’t really matter which one it is because you know Abby is everywhere…but I was looking around and thinking, “Wow, things have gotten so crazy, that they might have to build a totally new set.” It might be something different [next year] because this world has exploded. What world? I won’t tell you. But it’s that major.

That’s so exciting. To continue our bomb talk, does it blow your mind that the writers have been able to keep this up? 
[Laughs] Yes! Every once in a while — especially the beginning of season 2 and season 3 — I think, “How can these writers keep this up?” … Every single table read I go into I think, “What the hell are they eating or drinking?” I don’t know how they come up with this stuff. That’s certainly true about the season finale … I’m just expecting brilliance in season 4.

Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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