Kerry Washington in Conversation With Cicely Tyson

Two actresses, two generations, one illuminating discussion.

Kerry Washington (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
Kerry Washington (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)

There are legends, and there are stars. The former term can be used to describe Cicely Tyson, who recently won a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway play A Trip to Bountiful; the latter, Kerry Washington, the Emmy-nominated actress who is headed into her third season as Olivia Pope, the complex heroine in the hit television drama Scandal on ABC.

The star and the legend met for brunch, along with Philip Galanes, a reporter from the New York Times, to discuss, among many things, life as black actresses in Hollywood. It was, as one would suspect, Washington in awe of Tyson, and Tyson passing down jewels. But Washington also had some moments when she, too, was teaching. 

PG: One of the most intriguing things about “Scandal,” in which you play Olivia Pope, the fastest-talking alpha woman on TV, is that the show barely mentions race, even though you’re the first woman of color to lead a network drama in 40 years. Is that progress?

KW: No. Well, maybe in some ways. Race is a very big part of who Olivia Pope is, but it’s not dealt with in an obvious way. Maybe we’ve moved in a direction where we can have a wider range of how we approach race — not that we’re in any post-racial cultural moment.

PG: Can I just say that “race blind” may be the silliest expression the Supreme Court ever invented?

KW: I don’t want to be race blind or gender blind. They matter!

CT: The first time I read it, I thought: I have no idea what that expression means.

PG: What did you think of Lee Daniels’s new film, “The Butler”? It’s a bit of a throwback to those ’70s movies about race, no?

CT: I don’t think it has anything to do with race. It’s the story of a man’s life, set in the White House, because that’s where he spent most of his days. He just happens to be black.