LOS ANGELES _ Judy Smith was there when White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Chief Justice Clarence Thomas, quarterback Michael Vick and Idaho senator Larry Craig found themselves in the middle of major crises. The attorney and author is a crisis-management expert who’s mediated so many high-profile cases _ such as the Iran-Contra investigation _ her career has inspired the new ABC drama “Scandal.”
In the series, starring Kerry Washington as the Smith-inspired Olivia Pope, deals with high-profile problems that range from keeping the client list of a Washington D.C. madam under wraps to a scandal surrounding the president. Her tactics are cold, calculated and effective.
Smith says dealing with a crisis is a matter of coming up with a good strategy _ whether or not it’s a popular solution.
“At the end of the day, I play to win and otherwise I wouldn’t be good at my job. I’m also not a person that sort of talks around an issue,” Smith says. “If I’m really telling someone what’s coming ahead of them, then I’m going to say it and I’m going to own those words and own the way that I speak to them.”
For Smith, the bottom line is telling the client the truth, no matter how painful it sounds. That approach served as the foundation for series creator Shonda Rhimes to write Washington’s character.
“I think my shows are not necessarily medical shows or political shows or fixer shows or whatever. They’re shows about strong, smart women, and a lot of flawed, interesting people. That’s what I try to write about,” Rhimes says.
The way Rhimes creates characters who are both strong and flawed made slipping into the role easy for Washington.
“I love when Shonda says she likes to write flawed characters because the reality is that we are all flawed,” Washington says. “There’s not a single perfect human being alive, although many of us like to pretend that we are. So when Shonda says she writes flawed people, what she means is she writes real people, people who are three dimensional, fully realized human beings, and that is a joy for any actor, because so often we are having to create the three dimensionality of a character.
“I really love playing a complicated woman. But I am always looking for the good in the character.”
Smith, who is founder and president of Impact Strategies, knows her way around big events. She’s worked as a former assistant U.S. attorney and was President George H.W. Bush’s deputy press secretary.
One major plot point in “Scandal” was not inspired by Smith _ Washington’s character is having an affair with the president. Smith smiles and says the plot line doesn’t bother her.
“I think that anybody who knows me and knows my 25 years of work doing crisis communications would know that I did not sleep with the president,” Smith says.
Besides, she would never admit if she had.