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Actress, alum Kerry Washington talks time at GW, new memoir

The “Scandal” star said she learned the “art of storytelling” at GW, including how to analyze a scene and create a character.
Karsyn Meyerson | Staff Photographer
“Scandal” star and GW alum Kerry Washington discussed her acting career and time at GW during the discussion at Lisner Auditorium on Wednesday.

GW alum and actress Kerry Washington discussed how her time at the University improved her acting at Lisner Auditorium on Wednesday.

Washington, who graduated in 1998 with a bachelor of arts in anthropology and sociology and attended GW on a now-discontinued Presidential Performing Arts Scholarship, said she learned to focus on the process of acting while studying at GW rather than booking jobs during a book talk for her new memoir. The conversation about the memoir — “Thicker Than Water” — with her “Scandal” co-star Tony Goldwyn was hosted by D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose.

After graduating from GW, Washington went on to play crisis manager Olivia Pope in the Emmy award-winning political drama “Scandal,” which ran for seven seasons from 2012 to 2018, and starred in several movies, including as Broomhilda von Shaft in the 2012 western “Django Unchained.”

University President Ellen Granberg delivered introductory and concluding remarks, announcing the establishment of the Earl and Valerie Washington Endowed Scholarship, named after Washington’s parents. The scholarship will provide financial support to undergraduate students pursuing liberal art degrees in the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, according to a University release

Granberg said Washington spoke with students from the Corcoran Theatre Arts Program before the event and that she is honored Washington continues to make GW part of her “remarkable journey” through campus visits.

Washington said she learned the “art of storytelling” at GW, including how to analyze a scene and create a character. She said this education differed from her acting experience prior to coming to the University, where she mainly starred in commercials and as Heather in the ABC after-school special “Magical Make-Over,” a comedy about a teenage girl who wants to be popular. She said being a thespian at GW taught her that castmates must push each other to deliver better performances. 

“I learned the real academic toolbox that I needed to do this work in a way that was more pure and wasn’t just about like, ‘Look at me, look at me, choose me, choose me,’” Washington said.

Washington said her memoir documented her “hero’s journey.” She said learning she was conceived via sperm donor in 2018 was her “call to adventure” into discovering herself and that the book focuses on revealing this family secret and how it affected her relationship with her parents. Washington’s parents decided to undergo artificial insemination after trying to conceive for years, according to NPR.

“It was both extraordinarily shocking to me, and it turned my world upside down because we were the perfect family and we were obsessed with each other and they were at all my important moments,” Washington said.

Washington said her parents chose not to tell her about the nature of her conception for “so long” so she wouldn’t feel different or separate from them. Despite this, she said the secret caused “emotional distance” between her and her parents growing up.

She said readers will fall in love with her parents by the time they finish the book and that her parents kept the truth from her because of their love for her.

“I’m so lucky that I have parents who loved me so hard,” Washington said. “And some of the choices that they made in that love with the intention of loving me did not feel loving because it kept me from my truth.”

Washington said in writing the book, she was able to think about her own story, beliefs and emotions just as she does for the characters she plays professionally. She said she has been a “supporting character” in her parents’ narrative and that uncovering the secret allowed her to take charge of her life.

“When they told me the truth, I realized that this was my moment to maybe step into being the lead character of my life,” Washington said. “And that if I was lucky enough, which thank God I am, that I might have parents who would be willing to be supporting characters in my narrative.”

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About the Contributor
Cade McAllister, Events Editor
Cade McAllister is a sophomore double majoring in international affairs and political science from San Diego, California.  He is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 events editor.
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