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Kerry Washington on Playing Anita Hill: I Wish I Had Her ‘Elegance and Grace’

Actress Kerry Washington hit the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena on Thursday, where she discussed her preparations to play Anita Hill in the upcoming HBO film Confirmation.

Confirmation, set to premiere on the pay cable network in April, explores the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in which Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment while he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The allegation set off a media firestorm and forever changed Americans’ understanding and discussion of workplace harassment.

“I have met [Anita Hill]. She is very private,” Washington told press from the stage at TCA, according to TheWrap. “It’s one of the things she and I really shared, the idea that the circumstances of your life thrust into the public eye when it’s not necessarily your choice. That was something we really found common ground on.”

In addition to starring as Hill, Washington will also executive produce the film, which boasts a star-studded cast including Jennifer Hudson, Greg Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright and Eric Stonestreet. Wendell Pierce co-stars as Clarence Thomas.

“I wish that I had the level of elegance and grace that Anita had in the beginning,” Washington continued. “I just keep trying to learn how to live a public life and still have some private space. But there’s lots of role models for it and I’m just figuring it out as we go along.”

The Scandal star said she was “terrified” to play Hill because of the increased responsibility of playing a real-life person who is still alive. But she said that ultimately, the film is important because it comes as issues of sexual assault and race continue to dominate today’s news headlines.

“It changed the global conversation and that is an outcome that we all felt was really important and we wanted to make sure that the conversation continues because some of those issues have evolved enormously,” the actress added, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Yet some of the issues are still rearing their head, in terms of gender, in terms of race and how we understand those things. So I think really the outcome of what happened is that the conversation began and we want to make sure that that conversation continues.”

The contentious hearings surrounding Thomas’ confirmation were widely regarded as an all-out effort by abortion advocates to protect Roe v. Wade from potentially being overturned by Thomas’ vote on the Supreme Court. In a 2011 column for Fox News, Juan Williams called the partisan opposition to Thomas’ confirmation a “smear campaign” that ultimately became a “crusade by supporters of abortion rights.”

Williams explains:

They felt justified in doing whatever they could to fight against right wing zealot’s intent on denying American women the right to legal abortions. Kate Michelman, a leading abortion rights activist, said Thomas had views would lead “directly to the loss of a fundamental right for millions of American women and families.”

Abortion rights groups had success in blocking the confirmation of conservative Robert Bork in 1987 by portraying him as a right wing opponent of abortion. But Michelman said Thomas’ positions on abortion were “far more extreme” than Bork’s. Michelman and other supporters of abortion rights feared Thomas’s blackness was a distraction from the danger he posed as a fifth and deciding vote on the Supreme Court against legal abortion.

Washington is an interesting choice to play Hill, given her public support of abortion. The actress memorably starred in a controversial episode of Scandal in which her character undergoes an abortion set to the hymn “Silent Night.” She later tweeted her full-throated support for abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

Confirmation was written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Dope). The film premiers in April on HBO.

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