Warning: Spoilers ahead!
“I’m pretty peaceful and calm and sweet,” Jeff Perry says, three adjectives that most certainly do not describe his character, Cyrus Beene, the president’s chief of staff on the ABC prime-time drama “Scandal.”
Considering Cyrus’ actions this past season—pimping out his husband, covering up a murder, and almost blowing up a church full of innocent people—“diabolical” might be a better fit.
But after three seasons as Cyrus, Perry says his evil actions are something he’s been “tenderized and acclimated to.” Written by Shonda Rhimes, the show follows political fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and the never-ending crises she tends to in the nation’s capital. Throw in a steamy affair with the president and an abundance of jaw-dropping plot twists, and even the most critical TV viewers can get hooked.
And it’s Cyrus Beene who owned Season 3.
“There’s a dichotomous strain in this fella, and I kind of pin an inordinate amount of connection and empathy with him,” says Perry. “There’s kind of a better angel in there—often hiding!—of idealism, something I remind myself of when he’s being most Machiavellian, most strident, most murderous.”
To fully flesh out Cyrus, Perry says his faith in Rhimes and the writers saw him through. He says the only moment where he thought Cyrus’ “balance was in kind of precarious jeopardy” was in the final episodes of the third season, when he was “willing to blow up all these innocent people to get at Sally,” the current vice president and the president’s opponent in the election.
“That action kind of scared me and it kind of scared my own take on the guy,” admits Perry. “And I said [to Rhimes], ‘I trust you, you are the creator of this man. I’ll collaborate and fulfill whatever you come up with. This…this worries me.’ ”
Perry says Rhimes told him that she and the writers had considered what the decision meant for Cyrus, and that it was all going to be OK. “I said, ‘OK, that’s all I need to hear and we’ll just keep playing.’ ”
Yet Perry was tested again in the episode “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” where we learned his husband James (Dan Bucatinsky) had been murdered in a “carjacking.” Determined to throw himself into work, Cyrus breaks down while attempting to deliver a press conference about his husband’s death.
Of the scene, Perry says, “There was only one best way to do it and that was what the architecture suggested—that it happen somehow upon and directly after I say my husband’s name and that it surprise me that it’s happening.
“That was the devilish task Shonda handed me, and I thought it was beautifully written and I was desperate to do my damnedest to do some justice to it,” he says, still not taking full credit for the finished product. “You really don’t know if your nervous system and emotional system are going to cooperate in those moments, and you kind of thank the acting gods when [they do].”
Despite already having played Cyrus for 47 episodes (or what feels like 92 in fast-paced “Scandal” time), Perry is far from done with the character.
“I never really expected to have this level of challenge and satisfaction, and in a way that hasn’t gotten harder, I’m just in a certain actor suspicion and disbelief that it has continued,” he says.
Perry gushes at the thought of remaining challenged as an actor and being in the company he’s in. “Oh my God, it’s heaven,” he says. “I just love it.”
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