‘Scandal’: Joshua Malina Admitted Shonda Rhimes’ Sneaky Table Read Trick Was ‘Cool’

Shonda Rhimes is legendary not only for her penchant for making classic TV shows but the lengths she goes to perfect them, too. 

Scandal was on the air for seven years, and with political intrigue on top of her patent melodrama, it was the perfect series to let her spread her wings. Sometimes, this meant treating castmates like a viewer.

This was the case with Joshua Malina, who explained Rhimes’s strategy for getting honest reactions from her cast. 

Every Rosen has its thorn

RELATED: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Shonda Rhimes Was Inspired By The Discovery Channel

Attorney General David Rosen was a mostly despicable insider who, while occasionally human, often avoided karma’s grasp despite a lifetime of horrendous deeds. He would lie, steal, and turn the other way to get exactly what he wanted.

As such, his death always seemed like a foregone conclusion in which the only question leading up was when and how. 

When Rosen got the script, he often went to the end to see if Rosen met his end. This went again Rhimes’ desires for her series, and she taught him a lesson that lasted until the end of the series’ run. 

“I sit down and surreptitiously am looking, and to my horror, I see that there is a scene in which my character dies,” Malina recalled in a deleted quote collected by Mental Floss. “I should’ve realized, it took me about a minute, then I looked at Bellamy Young’s script, and it had a different ending. They had written an ending just to catch me. It was very cool.”

Tactics like these are not uncommon in Hollywood writers’ rooms. Whether it be a twist ending or a way to surprise actors on set, screenwriters often include items in the script not to put on screen but to gauge genuine reaction. Malina learned his lesson and almost made it to the end. Almost.

‘Scandal’: Shonda Rhimes has enough

RELATED: ‘Scandal’ Creator Shonda Rhimes Pushed For a Black Olivia Pope When Connie Britton Was Frontrunner

By the seriesfinale, Malina’s fears came through. After years of wondering what his character’s endgame would be, he got the call that secured his fate on the show. However, as Malina puts it, it wasn’t all bad. He’d put years into the role, and according to an interview with Variety, he was going to go out with a bang. 

“My heart started pounding in a way that sort of surprised me. I just realized just how big my binding to the show was — it really meant something to me. I was actually excited at the idea — having made it to the finale, why not go out big? It’s funny. My heart was pounding. She said, ‘Look, you’re going to have some great scenes. I’ve written you some wonderful stuff.’ Then I just started to get excited about it. She said, ‘Don’t tell anybody else,’ ” he told Variety

He didn’t, and one can’t help but think the endless fear about his character’s ultimate departure made the series the hit that it was.

Rosen meets his match

JOSHUA MALINA
JOSHUA MALINA | Eric McCandless/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

As Fandom notes, Rosen continuously operated in the shadows and hurt countless others without much remorse. As such, fans across the world were happy to see him end.

For Malina’s part, he put on a performance that secured precisely why the character had such a profound impact on fans. When the Vice President poisoned him in the finale, years of misdeeds finally caught up in ways fulfilling to fans and cast members alike.

Shows like Scandal might not be viewed as prestige television, but there’s a reason that it and other Shondaland series hit more often than not. She’s tapped into ways that let the natural melodrama of television attract new audiences while bringing in her devoted followers. That’s the power of her brand. 

Rhimes built a television empire in part due to her steadfast creative visions and achievements in getting what she wants on the screen. Try as they may bypass this, actors like Malina will inevitably find that while they are playing checkers, Rhimes is in the background playing chess.