“I’m on my knees thanking God for this everyday,” laughs Bellamy Young, who plays First Lady Mellie Grant on the smash television hit Scandal. Standing by President Grant’s side – whether he wants her there or not – she’s tough as nails, brilliant and ambitious – and also one of the most polarizing characters in recent history. “People just love to hate me!” she tells Rolling Stone. “But it’s with glee, not actual ferocity.”
Young doesn’t mind the attention, considering her character was supposed to last just three episodes. “I only had two lines in the pilot!” Young says. “At the first table read, [creator] Shonda [Rimes] said my character was going to have a short arc, because she wanted to do a Presidential divorce. I was crushed.” That will come as a shock to most Scandal fans, who know that Mellie has far exceeded her life expectancy. “They found her fulcrum,” explains Young. “They found how useful she could be in this story.”
Useful is an understatement in describing the role Mellie Grant has played in the jaw-dropping events that unfurl every week. “These writers constantly top themselves,” Young says. “Every week, I think it’s the most surprising thing I’ve ever read – and then I get the next script. After we read, we all have to sit quietly for a moment – breathing, needing a nap, needing a Xanax, needing a coconut water.” As for what the viewers love to hate about Mellie, Young thinks their hatred is mixed with respect.
“We’re meeting Mellie in a really complicated moment,” she explains. “And she is meeting those moments with such courage that she really doesn’t care what people think. She’s sort of a living wish fulfillment. She says, in those moments, what you wish you could say – the things that I would only say in the car on the way home.” Young adds that Mellie’s love life is something many people can relate to. “She loves Fitz, but it’s her Achilles heel and her downfall. She would be so much better if she could let it go. Only deep passion could keep you in something so miserable.”
In a show that prides itself on shocking events, two scenes stand out to the actress: “When I had that baby early to spite or manipulate Fitz and the threat to give the interview. People don’t do that on television!” Not that Young thinks Mellie is happy about her actions. “She wakes up every day sick to her stomach about the choices she made and tries to move forward,” Young says. “Perfection isn’t always perfect: it’s her dream, but also it’s her nightmare.”
It’s Young’s calculating attempts to turn her perceived happiness into a reality that makes Mellie Grant such a compelling character. She’s such a force of nature that it seems impossible that Young and her character won’t be forever intertwined. But the 43-year-old isn’t worried that she’ll be forever identified with the formidable First Lady. “I’ve never had an opportunity like this. I’m a woman, a woman of a certain age in Hollywood, and the fact that I get to say the words I get to say is a privilege,” she says. “If I get to spend the rest of my days doing the monologues that Shonda wrote for me, that would be a privilege.”