Kerry Washington says she was acutely aware of the challenge of playing Anita Hill in a miniseries dramatizing Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
"I was terrified. Portraying somebody who's real is a different kind of responsibility, especially when they're alive. That significance was not lost on me," Washington told a TV critics' meeting Thursday.
Washington, who is also an executive producer on HBO's "Confirmation," debuting in April, said she was 14 in 1991 when Hill emerged as a witness against Thomas, accusing him of workplace sexual harassment a decade before.
The actress recalled her parents' passionate and contrasting reactions to the hearings, which she said made her determined that the miniseries avoid any "one-note" approach to the event and the people involved.
Thomas is played by Wendell Pierce ("Treme," ''Ray Donovan"), who said he searched "for the humanity of the character" as actors typically do.
"I had to check my own prejudice about who I thought he was, and then I had this wonderful epiphany studying the man and realizing how much we had in common," Pierce said, including family roots in the South and influential grandfathers.
"I didn't think of him as a political figure. I thought of him as a man about to lose the greatest opportunity he ever had," Pierce said.
Thomas, who denied Hill's allegations, remains a Supreme Court justice.
Washington, who stars as a political crisis manager in "Scandal," was asked if her ABC series and "Confirmation" made her more or less cynical about Washington.
"I'm really inspired by the difference a person can make in Washington and the kind of cultural shift" that followed the hearings, she said, with new attention to issues including harassment, victim's rights, race and power.
Neither Washington nor others who involved in the project, including Greg Kinnear as U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, expressed an opinion during the Q&A session about Hill's or Thomas' version of events.