Bellamy Young on 'Scandal' finale and how the show 'normalized powerful women'

The cast of political drama "Scandal," including Bellamy Young (center, in blue, alongside Kerry Washington), helped evolve the television landscape. ABC/Bob D'Amico

On Thursday, we said farewell to Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and all the ways she's handled the never-ending stream of political high jinks in ABC's "Scandal." And after seven years of the show being a part of the TGIT lineup, we can safely say its legacy will live beyond the often-overdramatized plotlines or Pope's tailored trenches and covetable handbags.

It will be about the women who brought the show to life.

Bellamy Young, who plays U.S. President and former first lady Melody "Mellie" Grant in the series, noted that the show "normalized powerful women" in front of the camera and behind it. When "Scandal" debuted in 2012, Washington became the first African-American female lead in a network drama in almost 40 years. (Teresa Graves, who starred in "Get Christie Love!" received the recognition in 1974). "Scandal" was also created by a woman, Shonda Rhimes, who placed other women in key roles throughout the production.

espnW caught up with Young, to reflect on how "Scandal" helped shift the television landscape, the importance of uplifting women in the workplace and why Pilates is life.

espnW: How have you evolved with your show character, Mellie?

Bellamy Young: Playing Mellie has changed me molecularly! Every time she would fall forward and face-plant into a problem, Mellie would stand up straight and walk into danger, again and again. She'd never detour her dreams. At times, I can be full of self-doubt, but playing her has taught me out of that bad habit.

espnW: How has creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes helped women cast members and crew feel empowered on set?

BY: Rhimes, and the show's casting director, Linda Lowy, look for souls when telling these stories. It doesn't matter their body shape, race or political allegiance. Everyone has a seat at the table in "Shondaland," and that's what makes it so real and empowering. We see Olivia as the hero or antihero. And Mellie is the first woman president of the United States. Shonda normalizes powerful women.

espnW: What is your relationship with the other women on the cast?

BY: There is no louder cheerleader, more thoughtful friend or mentor, than Kerry. All of the "Scandal" ladies are very tight. Kerry has been so gracious in sharing her knowledge and heart with all of us. Even when she was pregnant and wearing 6-inch heels at 4 a.m. [during filming], Kerry would still be like, "OK, people we can do this!"

Kerry's the quarterback, and we were her gladiators.

espnW: Sounds like you all were a mighty force. How'd you prepare for the show, both mentally and physically?

BY: Pilates helped me understand my body in a deep way. I became aware of how unaware I was with my body [before that]. It taught me to be a better steward of my body, and I always get a good sweat in with the different positions and motions of the workout.

espnW: I'm sure you filmed for long stretches while working on "Scandal," how'd you create a workout regimen that adhered to your shooting schedule?

BY: I always walk, whether that's in between shooting, returning calls or emails. I made sure to walk at least 6 miles every day. It kept me sane, and it's still a way to add a little exercise into my day even if I'm not sweating. Every step counts -- it's about keeping your body in motion.

espnW: Athletics are a big part of your life. Any favorite teams?

BY: I'm from Asheville, North Carolina, and was raised on Dean Smith-era college basketball. I have fond memories cheering on [the University of North Carolina]. It was my jam!

If I'm at a game, it's like a collective unconscious experience where everyone else is cheering loud, then I start cheering, too. At home, I'm nervous and pacing for three quarters, and then, during the fourth quarter, I'm so focused and zoned in.