LOS ANGELES >> Olivia Pope’s journey comes to an end Thursday on “Scandal,” but real-life Washington power players and others remain in need of a determined “gladiator” to rescue them from crises. Enter Judy Smith, who inspired the ABC drama and remains in the thick of politics and Hollywood.
Smith, a co-executive producer for “Scandal,” has a deal with Hallmark for a mystery movie and is a producer for a Fox drama pilot starring Katie Holmes as a disgraced FBI agent. The affable but discreet crisis manager and lawyer isn’t forthcoming about her Smith & Co. clients, but the varied alumni are said to include Monica Lewinsky, Wesley Snipes and Walmart.
She’s familiar with Washington from the inside out: Smith served as deputy press secretary to President George H.W. Bush before founding her firm. She’s also been an occasional presence on TV, weighing in on issues for news shows.
Her personal life contrasts sharply with that of Olivia (Kerry Washington), who boasts a president among her lovers. But both Smith and her TV counterpart have been embraced as symbols of female African-American strength and professional success. On the eve of the “Scandal” finale, Smith talked about the show’s impact, what it means to be a “fixer” and what she wants for Olivia.
QUESTION: How does it feel seeing the series, which you inspired Shonda Rhimes to create, wrap up?
ANSWER: It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m so grateful and excited about it. … I think it’s really nice to end on a high note.
Q: You’ve got high-profile clients but tend to remain behind the scenes. Do you get recognized because of “Scandal”?
A: One time I was in a cab and the driver said, “How you doing? I really think about you and what your father does, running the secret (CIA) operation.” I said, “So you know it’s a TV show, don’t you?” I explained that to him and he said, “All right, since you’re the fixer, while I have you in the cab I’ve got a few issues that you could help me out with.” So that was the rest of the cab ride, sorting out problems, which I didn’t mind.
Q: The word “fixer” also has been used to describe Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime attorney, among others. What does that term mean to you?
A: We provide strategic advice when a company or individual comes to us with a problem. … The goal is to help navigate through it, and to protect the organization’s brand, reputation and valuation in the process. And I think that people have different names for that.
Q: Does ‘fixer’ have a negative connotation?
A: I don’t want people to get the impression that there’s a problem and somehow we magically make it go away. Issues often have a level of complexity that need to be worked through.
Q: How different is Washington now?
A: It’s not just Washington. I think the entire country has changed in so many ways. I think the political landscape is different. I think the cultural landscape has changed a lot. … Things are just very different from even two or three years ago.
Q: What’s surprised you about “Scandal”?
A: That it helped to change the landscape of television. I had a meeting with a network executive, and one of the things that he did was say “thank you,” because the show opened doors and proved the point that a strong African-American woman, a woman of color, could lead a network show. … It was important to me when we first started that the character is a strong woman who is good at what she does, and doesn’t walk away from that. She’s compassionate about her clients and she is passionate about the work that she does. … When women find out there is a person in real life behind the character and that all of these possibilities exist, they tell me they feel inspired and motivated.
Q: What do you count as Olivia’s biggest mistakes?
A: Oh, my gosh, where do you start? It could be going with the president. It could be moving bodies from a crime scene, which would cause me to lose my bar license. Or planning a murder. I could go on.
Q: You’re known for being well-dressed, but any envy of Olivia’s impressive wardrobe?
A: I sort of teased on the set when the show first started, “You guys know I don’t look that good every single day.” I don’t go to work like that every single day.
Q: Should Olivia end up back with her original squeeze, Tony Goldwyn’s now-former President Fitzgerald Grant?
A: I might have a little more information than you. I just want her to be happy. I think wherever her heart leads, that’s where she finds true happiness. That’s what I want for Olivia.