Like her Scandal character, Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington knows how to make things happen. The actor got her start on TV in the early 1990s and has since gone on to win two Emmys and get into both producing and directing. It wasn’t necessarily a path she planned, as she explained to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show on Oct. 28, but it did take guts.
The two were discussing Washington’s recent work, when Colbert asked her about how she got into directing. After a quick plug for her new Hulu series, Reasonable Doubt, she explained that it was a conversation with her friend Common — “the great hip-hop legendary artist,” as she described him — that got the ball rolling. At the time, he had recently released his 2007 album, Finding Forever, and was getting ready to shoot his “I Want You” music video.
“He called and said, ‘Hey, do you want to be the girl in the video?’” Washington said. She then explained to Colbert that she did want to be in the video but was hesitant because she “didn’t want to be, like, objectified.” Wanting to “have some control,” she found herself telling him, “Yeah, if I can direct it.”
If you’ve seen the video, it should come as no surprise that Common said yes, but he didn’t just immediately hand her the reins. First, she had to write a treatment (a description of her concept) and submit it “like all the other directors” for his and the label’s approval. When she got it, she was taken aback. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap, I have to direct this thing!’” she told Colbert of her reaction. Luckily, it ended up being “a blast.”
Washington’s bold demand is pretty inspiring, and it even shocked her. “I had no idea I was going to ask that!” she said on The Late Show. Previously, she’d joked on Jimmy Kimmel Live! about being “a smart a*s” when she told Common she wanted the gig. To earn it, she said in 2017, “I wrote this complicated treatment about him breaking up with me. I was his ex-girlfriend and now he’s got a better, more beautiful, sexy woman that he lives with, and so I break into his house… and they loved it.”
Asking for what she wanted paid off in multiple ways. Not only did she get the experience behind the camera, but Washington also formed a friendship with her music video co-star Alicia Keys. The singer appeared in the video as Common’s new girlfriend, and they were joined by Kanye West and Serena Williams.
Prior to sharing the tale with Late Show viewers, Washington encouraged others to ask for what they want by voting in the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8. “These elections, these midterm elections, these are when we elect local and state leaders that make the real decisions,” she said, encouraging viewers to “make sure that we’re electing officials who are protecting every vote.”