In Thursday’s (March 20) episode of “Scandal,” Cyrus Beene’s world fell apart as viewers learned his husband, James, was the one on the receiving end of that cliffhanger gunshot, losing his life.
As the episode, the 14th of the ABC hit’s third season, dealt with the initial aftermath of James’ slaying, and the subsequent coverup arranged by B613, fans were also treated to a series of flashbacks that recounted the tragic couple’s courtship — just as their present had met its end. To call it heartbreaking would be an understatement. (Read our recap here!)
Zap2it spoke with Cyrus himself, the incredible Jeff Perry, to discuss where Cyrus goes from here, his thoughts on the glimpse into the character’s past and more.
Zap2it: First things first, do you need a hug?
Jeff Perry: Please. Please, please. Reach through the phone. I think I do.
I wanted to ask first, for how long did you and Dan Bucatinsky (James) know this was coming?
We knew. Gosh, we started filming what you saw last night, it feels like we knew for about a week. And as you could probably imagine, it was — actors live in pretend-land, and so our hearts and our nervous system is kind of all wrapped up in doing our best to embrace this story, and so part of it feels absolutely real. And Dan and I are very old friends, and as fellow actors, I was so grateful, so challenged, so loved by this feast of relationship writing that Shonda and the writers had come up with for Cyrus and James. It’s been an absolute career highpoint for all of us to work this way.
So, there’s seven levels of grieving since we found out. …The wonderful part of this, as I said to Dan, is, “You just couldn’t have done more beautiful work. Your heart and and your talent was used so amazingly. You used them so amazingly. The writers used us amazingly.” And so, you know, in relative terms, you’re really grateful for that. And at the very same time, it hurts like hell because you go, “No, no, no, don’t take Christmas away.”
It was certainly a gut-wrenching episode, but it was also quite beautiful the way the beginning of their story was juxtaposed with its end. Were you glad to get to show that part of their romance?
I loved, I loved that! I adored that. I mean, part of me is kind of a fan and can remove myself from it, and part of me is inextricably attracted to it, emotionally, but I just adored that. “Oh, that was his first kiss. Aww, look, he’s so gently and lovingly dragging Cyrus into the light.” A man as old as Cyrus [who] has been so scared his whole life is owning this part of himself. It’s so touching to me. And heartbreaking that only in the loss of that big gift does he understand certain things and wish he could turn that tide.
What was the final scene you and Dan shot together?
I think it was the ballroom. Yeah, it was the ballroom scene. And that was very kind to our hearts [to have that be] the last thing we worked on because it was a gigantic, shining moment for them of why James was meant for Cyrus and why he was so absolutely dear to him. It was the moment he helped me finally be me. So that was our last scene and it was a great gift. A really sweet one to do.
Looking ahead, where is Cyrus’ head as he moves forward?
I think what the writers have done, and what you guys will see, is all the aspects you’d imagine. “Where do I go from here?” And I think a lot of things that grieving people can relate to: There’s denial, there’s rage, there’s a desire for revenge on the world. There’s reflection. There’s numbness and shutting down. All the different aspects of grieving.
And what the writers are interested in is that work plot is about the re-election. The personal and the ticking clock with that and the obstacles to that, being successful, the additional motivator for Cyrus is, “I love this job and love trying to make the machine work. I even love crisis management because it’s so inherently part of the job.” Now, the motivator is, “I can’t let this be in vain. I can’t let James’ death be in vain. I can’t let the struggles that we’ve had be in vain.” So that part of Cyrus’ DNA will kick in.
It really seems like Cyrus knocked over the first domino, so to speak, that led to this when he pimped James out to Daniel Douglas Langston early in the season. How aware of that is he?
There’s enough self-knowledge. Cyrus knows that he moved knowingly, but to a greater extent, crucially unknowingly, the fatal flaw of his wiring … like chess pieces. There were such grave miscalculations that are entirely on him. It’s a big change in his circumstances, and he’s aware enough to know just how much of this comes back to his horrible judgement.
When Olivia (Kerry Washington) decides to go along with the carjacking coverup and goes to Cyrus with the story, are we to believe he believes that? Or is he aware that there’s something else at play here?
I know Kerry and I believe it’s the writers’ intent that there’s a way in which they both know that this could be code, this could be the narrative that must be for the administration versus the truth. And I personally read that scene as “I don’t know that this is done.” And I don’t know if Cyrus can accept this official narrative and move on from on it. I can’t say more than that, but that’s what I read from that scene.
Now, Cyrus has relied on B613 from time to time and has aligned himself with the agency both out of his desire for power and what seems like fear over what might happen if he were to choose otherwise. Is there a reality, though, where he might team with Olivia and David Rosen (Josh Malina) in their war to bring the agency down after what it’s done to his family?
That’s possible. I think you’re absolutely right about there being a division for Cyrus there. There’s too much pragmatism in him as a political animal to not know that — you know, it reminds me of that scene when they’re talking about Remington and the official Air Force mission had to be completely covert. That there is a part of government that has to be off the books. It has to be covert. And Cyrus has always been a realist and a pragmatist about that — it has to exist. … It’s a necessity. So I think he’ll authentically have division about that.
There’s some talk that these last two episodes are just the latest and loudest indicators that you’re quite deserving of an Emmy nomination for your work this season. Is that something that you’ve been aware of or you let yourself be aware of?
You know, I love knowing art is celebrated, and it’s kind of like, man, who doesn’t like Christmas? Who doesn’t like their birthday party? So that part of it is completely fun. And it’s an honor to be a part of the conversation because I think it’s — man, I’ve been with TV my whole life, but gosh, with “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” on, chronologically, this has been a particularly glorious period of television work, and there’s so many things worth acknowledging and work I’m in admiration of. So to be part of a conversation with peers thinking that this is among the better examples of work would just be delightful and an honor.
I’ve got to ask, who’s looking after Ella?
Holy moly, I hope a really loving and capable nanny. This is what I have to assume. And I think we’ll see some of the very expected, “What is Cyrus gonna do?” Because his connection to Ella was, heartbreakingly, like he bought a smal
l sports car for his husband. I think he’s going to have to come to terms with this precious little baby and figure out what’s up.
There’s been some debate on that final scene between James and Jake (Scott Foley), with some viewers reading into Jake’s sitting with James as he dies as sweet and an indicator that there’s some humanity left in him, while others found it sadistic that James was left to suffer horribly while his murderer told him why he couldn’t stop his suffering. How did you read that scene?
I didn’t read, at all, any sadism into it. For me, it fell on the side of this is sincere and he’s sorry it had to be done at all and be done this way. You know, Jake kind of reflects the level of decisions that those in power make. What is necessary to keep the machine running and also to keep people’s faith in the machine intact? And I think it represented, “I have to do really horrible things, but I’m going to do them as personally as I can.” Hopefully, it represented humanity.
You’ve given us a greater understanding on what’s next on a micro level, in terms of how Cyrus works through his grief, but on the macro level, what can you tease about what’s to come in these last four episodes as far as the election is concerned?
There’s a ticking clock. Langston and Reston represent real challenges that our own baggage carry into a re-election with the electorate, carries real baggage of an obstacle. And that trying to win is authentically going to be really hard. Cyrus’ personal motivation in all of that is, “We have to. We have to win, otherwise so many things have been in vain. … On a personal level, my husband’s death will have been in vain if we can’t stay and do something good around here.”
“Scandal” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.