Q&A: Joshua Malina of Scandal

The actor talks sushi and tequila, cross-dressing as Olivia Pope, pranks, and the “rat-a-tat” writing of Shonda Rhimes and Aaron Sorkin.

josh malina scandal

Photo Provided, by Craig Sjodin/ABC

Joshua Malina is no stranger to well-written dramas. Bred in the school of Aaron Sorkin’s clever and fast-paced dialogue, Malina has taken his West Wing talents over to Shonda Rhimes’s hit show, Scandal, on which he plays the (so far) white-hat-wearing David Rosen. We caught up with Malina at the CJP Chai Society Mega Event, where he was the marquee speaker this weekend.

You’re on Scandal now, but you’ve been attached to quite a number of Aaron Sorkin projects.

My first professional job was on Aaron’s production of A Few Good Men back in 1989. He tossed out at one point that he had written this play for Broadway and asked if I wanted to audition. My career was zero—it hadn’t really begun. He no doubt pushed to have me cast, so that was one of my childhood dreams realized very quickly because of a friend.

All of the characters you play have a biting wit.

Because other people are writing the dialogue.

There’s a Sorkin-esque vibe on Scandal too.

I know that Shonda is a fan of Aaron’s, and it’s a mutual fan club. I don’t think she’s specifically trying to emulate him, but she is a similar type of writer. Very dialogue heavy—the rat-a-tat-tat. I think sometimes she gets lost in the sound of smart talk. She likes the music of it. There’s nothing more fun as an actor to perform that kind of articulate dialogue.

On The West Wing, you played the infamous Will Bailey. What’s it like transitioning from playing a White House staffer to being the DC U.S. Attorney?

The two fictional DCs I’ve gotten to inhabit are very different. Scandal posits a DC that is rife with lies and murder, and all sorts of terrible things that may or may not in fact be taking place in the real Washington D.C. The West Wing has more of a wonky, policy-type focus. In Scandal, you never know what the hell is going to happen next.

I have to bring this up. You dressed up as Olivia Pope for Halloween?

I got a call saying that Jimmy Kimmel wanted me on his show for Halloween. Years earlier, I had done Halloween on The Ellen Show, and I had dressed up as a nun. Immediately, I thought, “What type of woman can I dress up as this time?” The Kimmel staff got back to me and said, “Actually, don’t tell anybody, but Jimmy and the entire band are dressing up as Disney princesses.”

So immediately thought, “I can be the greatest princess of all time, Olivia Pope!”

To my delight, the wardrobe and hair department from Scandal helped me with my look. I had fake boobs, a bra, a halter top, and the white hat that we actually used on the show.

Everybody knows you as a prankster on set. What’s the best prank that you haven’t done yet?

I wish I had a good answer to that, but if I did, I don’t know if I would share, because it would kill the possibility of pulling it off.

[Pause.]

I do have something in mind, but I can’t share it.

So your next big project is in The Young Kieslowski.

Yes! I just did a reshoot for a scene the day before yesterday. We shot most of it early in the summer. It’s always a good sign when they decide to go back and tweak the film. I play a dad with a son in college, making his way through the world of romance and sex for the very first time. A very coming-of-age movie.

And have you been to Boston before?

Not in a long time. A few years out of college, I lived here for a summer with my sister who was out in Cohasset. A few college friends and I did a production of The Bacchae on the Common.

You flew in last night and you’re flying back out tomorrow. What have you done so far?

I was delighted to have found a place that specializes in, of all things, sushi and tequila. It’s called Sushi Teq.

What can we expect for your character on Scandal, David Rosen?

The only thing that I ardently wish for him is continued life. On a Shonda Rhimes show, you never know when you might go, which is one of the most exciting things for a viewer, but less so for the actor. I will say that it looks to me, from the most recent scripts I’ve read, that it looks like I’m about to get involved in another major scandal that involves all the other characters on the show. That being said, I don’t really know. Any time I try to get ahead of Shonda, I’m always wrong.

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