When word got out that Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhymes was working on a new show, lots of actresses were interested. Like Grey's Anatomy, that new series—titled Scandal—offered prime roles for women, notably that of the lead character, Washington, D.C. "fixer" Olivia Pope.
Rhymes told The Hollywood Reporter that early on, one ABC exec argued Pope "would be perfect for Connie Britton," to which she replied, "It would be, except Olivia Pope is black." Rhymes had based the character on real-life D.C. problem-solver Judy Smith, who is African-American, and she wanted to "honor her identity and heritage." Gabrielle Union was a top contender, and told Access Hollywood Live that she and "half of black Hollywood" were interested in the role, adding that she made it into the final round of five or six actresses. Taraji P. Henson, who'd go on to play Cookie Lyon on Empire, auditioned, but knew she wouldn't get it. "In my mind," she recalled of her audition, "I was like, 'This is Kerry Washington. Why am I even here?'" Indeed, Washington got the gig.