HOLLYWOOD, Calif —Tony Goldwyn welcomes people into the Oval Office with a warm smile and a handshake.
While the actor isn’t the president and only plays one on TV, standing on the set of the ABC drama “Scandal,” it’s easy to see why creator Shonda Rhimes cast the veteran actor-director as President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant on the sudsy series.
Among his many acting roles, Goldwyn memorably played the villain in “Ghost” and gave voice to “Tarzan” in the animated Disney film. As a director, he has lensed episodes of “Justified,” “Dexter,” and Rhimes’s “Grey’s Anatomy” among others, as well as the films “A Walk on the Moon” and “Conviction.” While he is more relaxed in person than his character, Goldwyn still exudes gravitas, along with good humor as he chats up reporters around his desk about the twists and turns of the series.
This season has found President Grant running hot and cold on his adulterous affair with crisis management consultant Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), engaged in royal battles with his scheming first lady, Mellie (Bellamy Young), and on his back in the hospital after an assassination attempt.
While Goldwyn says his series commitment makes it hard to work on other projects, he was recently cast in the anticipated YA film adaptation “Divergent” and was excited to be able to direct the next Thursday’s episode of “Scandal.”
Although Goldwyn admits he is often just as surprised as to what Grant is up to as viewers are — “Shonda doesn’t tell us” — he does know that since his brush with death, his character has new resolve. “Fitz has had a moment of clarity in almost losing his life and he’s done playing games and he’s going to tell the truth and he’s going to stick to it. He will be persistent.”
“Scandal” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Ch. 5.
Q. You’ve played many different roles over the course of your career but this has to be among the juiciest. Are you having fun?
A. It’s just so much fun, every script is like a gift. We just hoot and holler when we sit down to our read-throughs. And for me, there’s so many different contrasts to this character. The whole love affair with Olivia is great and the relationship with Mellie — it’s such a damaged marriage — and all the political stuff is fun. It’s great.
Q. Would you say Fitz is based on a particular president?
A. No. It’s sort of a mix of a few. I take different aspects. I remember one time I was able to meet President Clinton and it was in a room with a thousand people and yet he made every single person feel that he was speaking only to them and they were the most important person. And that heart that he has when he talks to people, I really wanted Fitz to have that human quality and big-hearted quality. In terms of the way he speaks, you watch Obama and Clinton [who] are rock-star speakers, so you take bits and pieces from different people.
Q. Have you ever been involved with a project that involves so much secrecy?
A. I’ve never done a regular on a television series, so this whole thing is new to me and fantastic and wonderful.
Q. Is it hard to keep things under wraps?
A. It is. (Laughs.) And Shonda’s constantly reminding us. Often we don’t know where it’s going to go most of the time so we’re just a little bit ahead of you.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge in playing the president?
A. To keep in mind the pressure cooker of every second of every day is so unbelievably intense. The stakes of everything are life and death and much more than we ever experience in our lives. That’s why their hair goes gray.
Q. Your character is pretty reckless given the level of scrutiny he’s under. Do you think that’s true of other presidents?
A. (Laughs.) I can’t think of any examples of presidents who have behaved in this way, so no.
Q. Will you be directing a film anytime soon?
A. This has me a little busy. I can’t really direct a movie right now so I’m developing stuff. I just directed a pilot for AMC that I created and we’re waiting to hear if that’s going to go to series. It’s a legal drama, it focuses on a district attorney in Philadelphia who gets involved in a wrongful execution and it derails his life. We’re still waiting to hear what our fate is there.
Q. Have you ever gotten any preferential presidential treatment anywhere?
A. Certainly not at home, let me just say that. (Laughs.)
Q. So has this role finally stopped people from yelling at you on the street for your dastardly deed in “Ghost”?
A. I must say, I do get tweets “I have finally forgiven you for killing Sam Wheat.” (Laughs.)