Bellamy Young may have grown up in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, but her heart lies in New York City. The Yale- and Oxford-educated theater veteran has worked in Hollywood for more than a decade, but it’s her recent run as First Lady of the United States Mellie Grant on ABC’s hit drama “Scandal” that has propelled her into the spotlight as a sophisticated, talented, and beautiful woman poised to steal the show at any moment.
At 43, the world is just starting to open up for Young and it shouldn’t be long before Emmy nominations, a hit album and even bigger roles are just around the corner for TV’s most beloved First Lady.
Do you think “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie” was a turning point for both the character and for you as an actor?
It definitely felt like a turning point for me personally. I’ve never been given such beautiful material. To have not only a complete and complex story arch in the present, but also one in the past is just such a blessing. I’m 43, in Hollywood and a woman. Those three things don’t always add up to incredibly complex storylines. You serve the story and you’re glad to be there and you’re always glad to have a job, but that was extra special.
How early on did Shonda Rhimes tell you that the horrifying Jerry Grant scene was part of Mellie’s story?
I found out the day before we started the episode. [Laughs] It’s happened to all of us now that you find out something seismic at the table read the day before you have to shoot it. But it’s all so well written that it all makes sense for the character.
I’ve heard that Jon Tenney is coming in to sweep Mellie off her feet.
I can say that he’s lovely and that he’s there, but I’m not allowed to talk about anything else. I really do love the energy he’s brought in. He’s a great actor and I think it’s a very cool addition to the show.
Do you really think there’s a chance for Fitz and Mellie?
I do! I have to think that. Where would I be without that hope? I think that life is long and complicated and they have a very specific bond. I’m not sure if it’s the healthiest bond or not – that’s not for me to judge – but it’s enduring and specific. I’m interested to see how the arrival of the older kids impacts and informs our dynamic. That’s a big piece of the puzzle.
Would you ever consider going into politics?
Oh, golly. I don’t think that is my gift. I hope I continue to be blessed to keep acting because that’s what I love so dear. I love that when you’re an actor you also get to help. We got so much stuff together today for Operation Blankets of Love, and that’s because you’re lucky to have a moment where people are listening to things you say, so you can be motivation and of service. I love that part of my job as much as I love the interpretation and the meat of the work. But I don’t think I’d be very good at politics at all. [Laughs]
Mellie has this ability to put on the happy face when she needs to or take out the claws when that’s necessary. Does living and thriving in Hollywood also require a lot of those same qualities?
I think it’s probably very analogous. There’s as much conniving and artifice as there is heartfelt hope for the future in both places. We live in more of a fantasy world in Hollywood, but we also, in our best moments, can be using that fantasy to propel a very real future. I think you’re quite right.
Mellie is a strong, powerful woman. Who are some of the women that you look up to?
I’m working for one of them and I’m working with one of them. Shonda is incredible. She can write a line that can teach you about the Constitution, but can also just make you want [her characters] to kiss all at the same time. It’s an incredible gift. To work for her is an honor. And to work with Kerry [Washington]… I’ve got to tell you: That is a special woman. The grace with which she leads and the amount that she cares and her capacity for thoughtfulness, I have never ever in my life met anyone like her. She inspires me daily. I grew up with a great mom too. The first thing she started really grounding into me was thoughtfulness and gratitude. She always told me to write thank-you notes when I was a tiny, little child and I remain grateful for the way that she framed life for me like that. The people who touch me are the people closest to me.
How does one go from growing up in the mountains of North Carolina to studying at Yale and Oxford and starring in a huge ABC drama?
My sweet mother, who has buried three husbands (she is thrice widowed), was told that my birth mother (I’m adopted) was a singer. We know that’s erroneous now because I’ve actually met my birth parents and they’re wonderful. But she tried to give me any chance that she could find, in the 70s and the 80s in the mountains of North Carolina, to sing. She really set a trajectory of creativity that I’m so grateful to get to continue on. I’ve just been so lucky.
On “Scandal,” your character is always made up to perfection. Do you ever wish Mellie could just throw on a pair of sweatpants?
Mellie? No. I just don’t think it’s that time of life for Mellie. She’s always in motion and very committed to whatever is appropriate. She was, in her mind, in the White House 20 years before she was actually in the White House. She has a certain sense of destiny and a thousand yard stare about her. I don’t think Mellie does sweatpants.
Are you equally as put together in your home life or are you a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl?
I aspire to be better put together, but I must confess to being quite oriented toward comfort and not propriety. I really like to be comfortable.
I can’t imagine how uncomfortable all of Mellie’s suits must be.
The hair is actually the most uncomfortable and that’s only because I’m braided underneath. And that is a wig plus two full heads of extension hair, so it’s so heavy. It’s magnificent, like a Vegas showgirl, but it’s painful. [Laughs] I’m definitely easy on my hair on off days. The clothes are lovely. I’m in Escada, Michael Kors and Elie Tahari. They’re really nice clothes.
What do you love about NYC?
I’m there anytime I can be. It is my heart’s home, and I just love it so much. North Carolina is definitely home home, but New York is the first place that I felt at home. It just makes sense to me. The people make sense. I make sense to myself. I feel alive there and enriched with every step. I love New York.
What genre of music is the album you’re working on?
It’s really just songs I love to sing, so it has everything on it from a P!nk song that I love to Fleetwood Mac and Ryan Adams and Bonnie Raitt. We’re doing a Tom Waits song and a Dixie Chicks song. It’s really all over the map. They’re all songs with good stories and good hearts and just songs that I can really lean into. They’re songs that my soul just wants to let out.
What are you most proud of in your career?
In my career, I’m really most proud of Mellie. It’s the richest I’ve gotten to be in terms of dimension and depth. I’ve been so blessed for so long, but this is the real cherry on top. May there be more icing and sprinkles and nuts to come, but Mellie is pretty choice.
And in your life?
In my life, I am proud of getting the chance to help a lot of animals either by fostering or by volunteering. That, bar none, makes me feel like a rich person. When you see an animal find their person, which is a very singular connection, it is an absolutely sublimating moment to have been even the tiniest, tiniest part of that magic love moment. It’s everything.
How many fosters have you kept?
Just one! I’ve fostered countless animals. Maybe it’s because I’m adopted, but I really believe that all our little souls are on a course and it always feels when I’m fostering that I’m just helping. I was in foster care for six weeks; I don’t think that lady thought she was going to keep me. So I just want to make those animals – whether it’s little baby kittens that need bottle feeding or a big giant dog – remember how to trust so that they can trust themselves enough when they meet their person to think, “I love this person,” and that person can see it. I just think it’s such holy, holy work. My dog was my sixth foster and she was meant for me. She was totally meant for me.
I was going to ask you what makes you happiest, but I think you just answered it.
Oh, yeah. That and singing. If I couldn’t sing, I’d be lost. Singing is everything to me. It’s a solace and a catharsis and therapy. It’s the sound of peace and also my subconscious.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
It was from my most recently deceased stepdad, Barry. In his little Boston accent, he always used to say, “Just be yourself and you’ll be fine.” I didn’t believe him at the time because I was younger, but it turns out that he was one hundred percent right.
A Presidential Passion for Animals
Bellamy Young is, first and foremost, an animal lover. Not only does she have three cats (Sadie, Max, and Button) and a dog (The Bean) of her own, she has also fostered numerous animals and contributes to many animal charities.
“Fostering is something a lot of people can do and it makes such a difference. I’ve fostered from different organizations or just pulled from shelters and fostered on my own. That means the world to me.”
Bellamy’s favorite new charity is Operation Blankets of Love. “They take blankets, towels, pillows, crates and things like that to the shelters that don’t have any money or funds for comfort items. You put a blanket on the ground between the cement and the dog, and all of a sudden that dog is transformed and adoptable, and you save a life. It’s so simple. They also help shelters that allow the homeless to bring their animals. There are five in LA and I can’t even tell you about it because it’s going to make me cry.”
To get involved with Operation Blankets of Love, visit their website at OperationBlanketsOfLove.com.
On her bond with her co-stars: “We’re lucky because we’re such a tight family of actors so we get to see a lot of each other, and we try to do all of the events together. We get together at Jeffy’s [Jeff Perry] house and pre-watch the episodes so we can tweet cogently.”
On her Ivy League past: “I applied early admission to Yale and they deferred me. I thought they were just being polite because I was southern. [Laughs] Like they were breaking it to me gently. So I applied to 12 other places and redid my entire application, and they finally let me in.”
On fear: I’m terrified of sharks and water because the water keeps the sharks. “Jaws” is a genius movie but I don’t ever want to see it again. [Laughs]
By Scott Neumyer