LOS ANGELES — As one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood, Kerry Washington can be extremely choosy about the roles she picks.
So why did she decide to lend her talents to Cars 3, the latest Pixar offering?
“Well, for one thing, it’s nice to be in a project that I can share with my kids, because, obviously, Scandal (the political drama in which Washington plays Olivia Pope) is not appropriate!”
“Plus, there’s something about this franchise that is so beautiful,” she said. “This story in particular explores the idea of girl power and teamwork and the importance of teamwork.”
As sharp-tongued commentator Natalie Certain, Washington said she had fun — and laughs about being chosen for that role.
“I’m sure that when Pixar created this role of a smarty-pants, bossy, know-it-all character, that they called knowing how challenging it would be for me to play against type,” Washington said with a hint of sarcasm. “I’m sure they didn’t think of me in those terms. So, I decided to dig deep and see if I could find the character.”
As for the challenge of doing voice work, Washington said, “It was really fun, actually. I was still pregnant when I was recording, so it was fun to do a project where I didn’t have to hide all the time.
“It’s something that takes you back to being a kid, where you’re just using your imagination to play pretend. You know? Without pretenses. The other stuff, it can be harder, because you’re dealing with things like hair and makeup and props that help ground your performance. With voice work, you really have to be willing to use your imagination to envision this world in your mind and heart.”
With Washington an important part of the Disney family (in addition to her Pixar work, Scandal airs on Disney-owned ABC), could the future have her wielding a lightsaber or being a Marvel superheroine?
“I would love to,” said Washington, who played civilian Alicia Masters in the 2005 Fantastic Four film. “I would absolutely love to. Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, but we’ll see.”
While on the subject of unforgettable characters, Washington touched on her forthcoming final season playing Olivia Pope.
“It’s so hard to put into words,” she said. “I think my brain is really focused on the next year and really trying to make it the best it can be. I want to focus on closing out in a way that is exciting. I feel like we’ve been groundbreaking from the beginning and I want to make sure that we’re groundbreaking until the end.”
With a full slate of projects, Washington said, there is a simple key to balancing work with being a mother and wife — she’s married to former Eagle cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
“As Cars 3 stresses, it’s about teamwork,” she said. “None of us succeeds alone, and if I tried to do it all alone, it would be a horrible failure. From [Scandal creator] Shonda [Rhimes] to my castmates to my family and friends, we all pitch in to make it work for each other, and that’s important, to acknowledge that you’re part of a team. None of us is supposed to do it alone.”
As an outspoken activist for a number of causes, Washington said recent incidents in which people try to shut each other up are not productive.
“I think we should not be afraid of having conversations,” she said. We need to stop as a society looking to be right, and be open to an ongoing dialogue and including other perspectives and experiences and points of view.”
“If the goal is to create a work of art that has no complaints or discussion around it, that is not my goal,” she said. “I’m not looking to create a perfect piece of work that nobody has anything to say about, because I think that even when we’re doing our best to make work that is inclusive and reflective and full of humanity, there are going to be people who feel left out and have an opinion. It’s sort of the nature of art.
“The goal shouldn’t be to please everybody. The goal should be to continue the conversation,” she added. “I think it’s important not to be hypercritical and that the conversations we have be civil and respectful. I think its important to recognize when people are doing good work — and also to listen to those who say there’s more room to grow. I know I’ve done work that has moved the needle, and then people will challenge me.”
“They don’t make me or my work lesser. They make me grow as a person,” she concluded. “It means that I can continue to grow and evolve and be even more inclusive and reflective.”