Notes on a Scandal

Columbus Short made a name for himself with dance, music and drama. Now he sings a darker tune on the hit show Scandal.

 

Columbus Short, starring as attorney Harrison Wright, is no exception. And you can tell he revels in the mystery of what will happen next.

Oh, he has known all along that his character’s role at the high-profile crisis management company will be developed more this season, but even Short himself got caught up in the slow unspooling of the backstory. “We don’t even get our scripts before we sit down at the table reads,” says the 31-year-old actor, who memorably delivered the self-descriptive line “gladiators in suits” during the show’s pilot episode. “We find ourselves being just like an audience member, like, ‘Oh my god!’ The audience members, the fans, the gladiators, they’re relishing it.”

When he spoke to ALIVE this summer, the Kansas City native promised that Season 3—launched in early October—will show us “another side of Harrison…which gives me the opportunity to dive into another side of my acting potential that hasn’t been showcased.” Fans may still better remember Short from movies like “Stomp the Yard,” where he out-danced a fellow college student, and “Cadillac Records,” in an award-winning supporting role as a blues player. Though his fast-talking persona on “Scandal” was a creation of show runner Shonda Rhimes, Short says what he does on set influences her and the writers as they plot future twists and turns. In many ways, he’s shaping his own acting legacy.

 

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Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC

ALIVE: You’re clearly relishing the drama around the new season.
Columbus Short: I’m an artist, so there is my artistic gratification being tickled. But it’s really about being challenged and stepping up in the way I want. I love characters that are three-dimensional. I love flawed characters.

ALIVE: We all grew up watching legal dramas unfold on TV and movie screens‰ÛÓwere there any actors that inspired you for this role?
CS: There’s a slew of actors that have always been inspiring to me. Denzel [Washington], of course‰ÛÓI watched him in “Philadelphia” as a lawyer. Tom Cruise‰ÛÓI don’t think anybody does intensity and stakes better. At “Scandal,” we call ourselves the stakes-raisers. Every time we do a take, the next time we’re like, “Let’s raise the stakes even higher and be more intense.” Tom Cruise is amazing. I think he’s a highly underrated actor. And Daniel Day [Lewis]…Marlon Brando‰Û_he was a fast talker, a smooth guy who could talk his way out of anything.

ALIVE: You seem to be a natural at it.
CS: I feel like part of the reason I was drawn to the pilot was the monologue. The first three pages was this awesome scene for the character, diving right in. That monologue Marlon Brando had in “Guys and Dolls,” it was kind of like that. It fit with my energy and my essence.

ALIVE: You also have a very musical background, from singing and playing instruments in your film roles to choreographing live dance, as you did for the Britney Spears Onyx Hotel Tour. Are you missing that a little in this role?
CS: Music was my first love. There is always a void that wants to be filled. Not to do music to get some kind of acclaim or Grammy or album sales‰ÛÓjust to do it for the creative outlet. The artistic triad is something that’s really important to me. I play whenever I can to satisfy that artistic void. ALIVE: Have you recorded an album? CS: A few years ago I was working on one. I was also doing “Death at a Funeral” and “The Losers,” all these movies back to back. I wasn’t sleeping‰Û_it was a bit too much. I’m still writing [songs] now. At some point I’ll put out an album, just because that’s such a part of me. Now I have a lot more to talk about regarding love, pain and all of those things that make great records.

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Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC

ALIVE: You’re still a young actor. What goals do you have for the future?
CS: I’m active in writing and producing, and I want to get behind the lens and direct more, contribute to filmmaking and television in a thought-provoking manner. I feel like having ideas and plans and hopes is good, but I also believe in letting it play, letting it come as it comes. I look at guys like Idris Elba‰ÛÓI just saw the “Mandela” trailer‰ÛÓand he’s been doing this forever, making his headway, patiently waiting for these opportunities now coming to him. It’s great to see, and it lets you know to just keep chipping away. You just have to trust in God that it’s moving in the right direction.

ALIVE: “Just keep working” seems to be a common mantra in Hollywood.
CS: Right. Just don’t ever stop moving. Keep walking. Keep working. In an economy when a lot of talented actors are not working, I want to be in a state of gratitude for just that.

ALIVE: Did you know you wanted to act when you were young?
CS: Oh, yeah. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I know when the light bulb went off. As corny as it is, I kept saying I wanted to fly fighter jets, and I remember I watched “Top Gun” and I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t have to be a fighter pilot, I can play a fighter pilot!” I said, “I want to do that. Whatever that is, I want to do that.”

ALIVE: Then what happened?
CS: How to do it was kind of the question, but you start off doing theater and musical theater in school, and I discovered I had a knack for picking up characters and kind of hiding in characters. It was an escape. I was like, “I can do this for real!” I hope one day I’ll be able to provide opportunities through arts academies in inner cities across the country‰ÛÓbecause that’s what happened to me. I was afforded a place to go to get trained the right way‰ÛÓso [kids who grew up like I did] have a chance to see their dreams come true.

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Craig Sjodin/ABC

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