Kerry Washington Remembers Her First Feature Role in ‘Our Song’

'Scandal's' Kerry Washington Looks Back on
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

These days, Kerry Washington has her hands full juggling Olivia Pope’s messy personal and professional lives on ABC’s “Scandal.” But given her own personal commitment to arts education, she finds it fitting that her first feature — and Variety credit — was “Our Song,” about how resources can transform the lives of young people, much as this early part transformed her own.

How did you get the part?

When I read that script, I really wanted that role — I loved everything about it. The director, Jim McKay, was concerned because my character has her 16th birthday in the movie, but I had just graduated from college, so I was 21. He wanted the film to feel very authentic. He said, “I want you to think about living in your body as a 15-year-old.” So I worked really hard on that, and I got the part.

Who were your heroes?

This was a period when I was trying to (establish) my independence in New York. But my mom was incredibly supportive. This was a low-budget, independent film, so our transportation budget was 30 Metrocards. So she would drive from the Bronx down to Brooklyn and take all three of us girls (who were starring in the movie) home. Which was so huge.

What was the best thing about that time in your life?

I was doing what I loved to do, I was doing it for the first time, and with a real actor’s director … a phenomenal collaborator. There’s a moment before most movies where it says “a film by,” and it says the name of the director. Jim McKay is the kind of director where it says “a film by,” and it lists the name of every single member of the cast and crew. I’m really grateful to this day that my first job was with him.

Did you read the review when it came out?

I’ve never read reviews. I don’t find that they are helpful for me as an artist. It just increases the amount of time I need in a therapist’s office.

What did you learn from this experience?

To never forget that filmmaking is a collaborative experience. When I’m at work on “Scandal,” I know that without a crew, we’re a bunch of actors in a black box; we don’t get to share it with the world if we don’t have technical capability and genius around us. I enjoy being part of a community of artists and artisans, and I respect the artists I work with.

If you could go back, is there anything you would do differently?

I would have taken more pictures. I had a cellphone, but that was before every cellphone had a camera in it.

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  1. CPS says:

    Our Song is a very good look at life for teenage girls in the inner city. It felt more like a documentary than a feature film. The cast of young unknown actors gave excellent performances.

    It was the first movie that I remember seeing for both Kerry Washington and the director, Jim McKay. Kerry’s follow-up independent movie Lift is excellent.

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