‘Scandal’: Jeff Perry Breaks Down Cyrus’s Journey to ‘Utter Desperation’

ABC/Nicole Wilder

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched tonight’s episode of Scandal yet, you probably don’t want to read ahead as major plot points and developments are discussed below. You’ve been warned.

At the close of this week’s episode of ABC’s Scandal, we know that Cyrus Beene is heading to the big house, but, to be perfectly clear, we don’t mean the house on Pennsylvania Avenue with the infamous oval office. Sure, he may have been handed the job of POTUS after the murder of President-elect Francisco Vargas (Ricardo Chavira) but the big questions about whether he had a hand in Vargas’s murder and how this all came crashing down are all answered this week and we’ll see exactly how Cyrus went from being the most powerful man in America to his next stop behind bars.

Actor Jeff Perry, who has blown us away as Cyrus since the Shonda Rhimes-created thrill ride of a series first hit the air, talked to TV Insider exclusively about this episode and helped dissect what we saw, how he approached playing key moments and also what we can expect moving forward.

After all the amazing stuff Shonda and writers have given you over the years, did this episode feel different for you?

Yeah, it’s got a beautiful pressure to it. It’s the metaphoric, somewhat literal noose tightening around Cyrus’ neck. He starts the episode trying to choose a tie and has freshmen nerves about “Oh my God, I’m about to go to a historic meeting and photo op with my own boss and I am headed there and I made him a solemn promise to try to be a better person.” I think Cyrus truly loved Frankie and believed in his potential. It starts on this anticipatory, beautiful note and almost immediately, Abby warns him to shut everything down and Cyrus wonders what the heck is going on. Here’s David (Rosen, played by Joshua Malina) on the TV, the paparazzi have surrounded his house and it is a kind of cabin fever of, “How do I get out of this?”

Check out the scene from the opening of the episode here:

Cyrus seems genuinely surprised at that moment. Did he really think he was going to get away with everything?

Because it’s literally about an investigation into Frankie’s death, he is between a rock and a hard place. He knows that he didn’t do it but he knows that Liv (Kerry Washington) believes he did and he doesn’t know to what extent, to what sort of scary, moral, truthful extent that he is responsible for his trained Doberman that is Tom (Brian Letscher).

In flashback, we see the moment where the rift between Cyrus and Olivia really starts and of course now she’s helping bring him down. Is there any going back with the two of them? They’re so on opposite sides at this point.

Yeah, they really are. I think it’s as actively estranged as they have been. Cyrus literally states pretty early on that she’s trying to steal the presidency and I’m not gonna let happen and it’s not true. She has a rabid theory that isn’t true and they’re as against each other as they have ever been. And in present tense terms, I don’t know how these two people ever repair this.

When Tom calls Cyrus and says, “you used me,” and it made me wonder, like, is there anyone Cyrus doesn’t use? I know that sounds villainous but do you think Cyrus uses everybody in a certain way?

Yes. And in a kind of lovely, dichotomous way, he can be very loyal. Certainly self-justifying but there’s some truths where he says things to Olivia like, “Yes, I’m a monster, but I am your monster.” And that there is a kind of die-hard loyalty offered, I think in his heart but it’s a certain kind of patriotism. I remember from the Sam Ervin-led Nixon impeachment hearings of the means that the intent is uber-patriotic in the eye of the beholder.

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When Tom offers to help Cyrus get the presidency, that’s such a point of no return for Cyrus because you see that switch flip where he finally say out loud, “Yes, I want to be the president,” Do you think it’s all about his ego at that point or is it something he didn’t even realize he wanted until someone put it in front of him? Or maybe both?

Jeff Perry: Yeah I think there’s a simultaneity there. Die-hard Scandal fans will know that when he and James (Cyrus’s first husband, played by Dan Bucatinsky) got practically naked because they both assumed they were wearing a wire and it was about a stealing of the presidency and the election for Fitz. That was a beautiful pressure point that the writers created for Cyrus and one of the things he goes on to say is, “I could have been a great president.” He thinks the Chief of Staff is the height of his ambition. [With Tom in this episode], he’s reminded that that’s deep in there and I hope the scene plays like their sexual fantasy pillow talk, too. Not really meant to go anywhere else, just fantasizing.

I definitely saw it that way where Cyrus may be taking this one way but Tom’s probably gonna take it another way.


Later in the episode when Tom has the gun in Cyrus’ mouth, I was wondering, do you think there’s a part of Cyrus that wanted him to pull the trigger just to end it all?


How did you approach playing that moment?

It was a final revelation before he put that gun in my mouth and I’m almost goading him with the actual truth of how I love Michael (Matthew Del Negro), I loved that man. I never loved you, I used you. “You loved me and I used you.” Is it a final confession? Is it “Go ahead, do it, do it?” I don’t know how to fight the rat’s maze that I have built.

I’m so glad we were able to see the scene where Vargas picks Cyrus as his running mate, because it seems that this wasn’t a part of Cyrus’ master plan. It just fell into place. Do you see it that way?

Yeah, definitely. I think the writer’s intent and my intent was a very honest response in “No, no, I can’t do that! I’m not a politician!” And Frankie says, “That’s good,” I said, “No, no, no! That’s the point, I’m not good. I’m not a good person!” And the very last images are he’s just overwhelmed. Like how he characterizes himself with Michael in the previous scene. That mouth-breathing, neverpicked for-gym-class Cyrus has been chosen by someone he thinks is a lineage of political gods. He’s so overwhelmed.

Tell me about that moment when Vargas leaves the room and we just see how Cyrus is reacting to this news. Is that the kind of scene you just have to really work hard to prepare for, or are you so in this character that you probably got there quicker than maybe you even realized?

I can say that my daughter Zoe was on set that day. I asked her to feed me some lines off camera and because it was coming from my daughter’s mouth, and because of the little dialogue we created, it helped me try to get to where what I thought the writers intended and it was kind of a great little actor gift that she was there, you know?

I’m very nervous about what’s coming next since I can’t imagine things won’t go well for Cyrus in prison. Can you give me one word to describe what’s next?

Hmmm….two words?

Two words will work.

[pause] Utter desperation.

Scandal, Thursdays, 9/8c, ABC.