One of the great, under-appreciated joys of watching “Scandal” each week is Cyrus Beene. As played by Jeff Perry, Fitz’s long-suffering Chief of Staff lives in a constant state of panic as he frantically cleans up the messes POTUS (Tony Goldwyn) blithely makes as he flip-flops between pining for Olivia (Kerry Washington) and hating her guts. It’s a tour-de-force performance that doesn’t always take center stage — at least, not until last week.
Cyrus’ marriage to James (Dan Bucatinsky) is in crisis — and it’s all Cyrus’ fault. After practically pushing his spouse into the arms of the Vice President’s husband in order to force her out of the presidential race, Cyrus is shocked when James doesn’t rebuff the other man’s advances. Instead, Cyrus and James’ marriage is about to be rocked by infidelity. Of course, there’s a whole lot of other things coming down the pipeline for the midseason finale (Huck and Baby Huck are on a collision course with torture, and then there’s Olivia’s meet-up with wrist-chewing Mom), but Perry kindly took a few moments to talk to me about his character, the show thus far, and not offer too many hints of what’s to come lest he go the way of bad B613 agents…
It was heartbreaking to see Cyrus blindsided by James’ decision to cheat on him.
Right after we cut away from Cyrus in some anguish, you get the feeling Mellie’s warning is echoing in his head, and something he never expected. The master strategist made a grave miscalculation. I imagine that led to some really sleepless nights that [Cyrus] may have screwed up everything [he] cared about in one fell swoop there.
It seems like he’s in a pretty lousy spot now, as those photos would end Sally’s career but also James’.
I don’t have any leverage to keep Sally in the fold, and without that, we can’t get reelected. This is battle Cyrus has had in the past… do [I let Hollis] kill my husband to [stay in the White House]? In the 11th hour I say no, and I call off Charlie the assassin. I think Cyrus is as unmoored at the end of 308 as much as he possibly could be.
Any other hints you can give me? Even a little one?
I can’t. It’s just like B613, and I’ll be assassinated if I give anything away, but Cyrus and James are thrown into dire character straights.
Were you surprised that the decision was made for James to cheat? It seemed like a reaction to Cyrus’ betrayal, which makes sense.
I think the wound is crazy deep, and that’s why James, I assume, did that. But I think the audience, as is often the case, sometimes knows things certain characters don’t. I think Cyrus is massively disoriented. He just didn’t expect this. And he’s not privy to some of the reveals that happened which only the audience knows.
Is it ever confusing for you, as an actor, trying to keep all these twists and turns straight? It’s a roller coaster for us as an audience.
It’s an aspect of the job, and there isn’t an aspect of the job I don’t adore. Every part of this work is exquisitely challenging. Alone in our rooms and together before scenes, we are kind of obsessively sorting it out, who knows what, who got that? We’re always looking at the path that led to this and plan a contingency of what outcomes could happen to a certain extent. Everyone in the story is in strategic thinking land. Because of their jobs and their proclivities. It’s a blast as an actor. And it is really challenging.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility playing part of a gay couple on television?
Wasn’t it fascinating how Shonda revealed that to me that just days before you guys found out? Olivia comes to the door and a man answers the door and says, my husband doesn’t work on weekends. So oh, Cyrus is gay. What I think about that is heretofore in our popular culture, there would be a different kind of emphasis on that. But Shonda’s time in American history as an observer and writer and a black woman, she’s saying I did not grow up obsessed with some of the differences the previous generation might have on gender and race; they might have had a very different place for me. There’s an inclusivity in her writing, there’s room for everyone, the lost, the sexual preference minorities, every race, etc. et. There’s inclusivity to Shonda’s table that’s pretty remarkable. As far as playing gay, I’ve played transvestites, I played transgendered and coupled with John Malkovich in a gay relationship [in a play]], and I love any opportunity to try to walk a mile and honor someone else’s path. That’s just fun for me. It’s just interesting for me.
Well, you can’t give us any spoilers, but this looks like it’s going to be one heck of a midseason finale. Things look pretty bad for Baby Huck.
I didn’t like the looks of that toolbox laid out on the table, did you?