Khandi Alexander on playing family from hell in ‘Bessie’ and ‘Scandal’ [Exclusive Video]


Actress Khandi Alexander plays two very different women in HBO’s biopic “Bessie” and ABC’s drama series “Scandal,” but they’re both the kind of family you should get far, far away from. It can be difficult to push away your flesh and blood, but “sometimes you can,” Alexander insists. “Sometimes you better.” (Watch our complete video chat below.)

Kerry Washington | Joe Morton | Queen Latifah | Michael Kenneth Williams | Tika Sumpter

In “Bessie,” she plays Viola, the older sister of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah), whose bitter temperament comes from a lifetime of struggle. “I felt that she was frustrated and deeply resentful because their mom died and she had to take over that role at such a young age,” says Alexander. “And it was during a very hard time in this country, economically as well as racially, so I just felt she was very bitter and very angry.”

She adds, “There was such deep poverty at that time, and the things we take for granted now, they were rare and special, especially for black people. So that level of physical hunger, racism, pain, and anger, understanding that it paralyzed my character, but it actually freed the artist in Bessie.”

Her “Scandal” character is a different story altogether. She plays Maya, the homicidal mother of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). “Maya comes from a world of absolute materialism,” she says. “She will kill for money. Money is the only thing she loves as much as her daughter … I know she loves her daughter very much, and I know she loves money very much. I don’t think Viola had more than three or four dollars in coins in her life.”

But even though Maya is certainly manipulative, Alexander believes that “she sees Olivia very clearly. I do believe it is manipulation, but it’s manipulation from a mother’s love … a mother’s love that’s gone haywire.”

Maya spent most of season four as a prisoner, but in the season finale, she made a sinister deal to get her freedom back. So will we see a lot more of Maya in the future? “I’m not telling you anything,” says Alexander with a grin. “You will have to tune in.”

Watch more exclusive Emmy interviews with
Queen Latifah, Will Forte, Felicity Huffman, Finn Wittrock and more


Make your predictions and you could win a place of honor on our leaderboard, a starring role in next year’s Top 24 Users (the two dozen folks who do the best predicting this year’s Emmys line-up), and one of three contest prizes: $500 for first place, $300 for second place, and $200 for third place. Prizes will be bestowed as gift certificates to be redeemed at Amazon. See our contest rules for more info.

Average Gold Derby users just like YOU often turn out to be our smartest prognosticators, so it’s important that you give us your predictions. Your picks influence our User racetrack odds, which also factor into our official combined odds.

The Top 24 Users did the best at predicting last year’s Emmy nominations (78.55%) when competing against Gold Derby’s Editors (77.68%), all Users (74.78%) and the Experts (74.64%). Which group will be victorious this year?

Register/log in to your account (or create an account with one click using Facebook, Twitter, or Google) so you can also compete to predict the Tony Awards, “Game of Thrones” and more.

More News from GoldDerby