Scandal Star Bellamy Young Says Her Character Taught Her "Swagger"
Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done.
Playing the first female president of the United States on the small screen has its lasting effects, according to Scandal’s Bellamy Young. The actress who played Mellie Grant on the series for its seven seasons says channeling her character helped her find a more confident, more badass woman within. “I'm, historically, very prone to second-guessing myself and apologizing. I used to be one of those people that apologized for everything that wasn't even mine to apologize for. And Mellie was very my-way-or-the-highway,” she tells InStyle. “Mellie had a swagger that changed me.”
Young’s big break on Scandal has led to more than just awards and acclaim — the actress has been channeling Mellie-style swagger to make sure of that. Young has dipped her toes in music, releasing her debut cover album in 2015. And she's leveraged her platform to lift up other young women and men with a scholarship endowment at Yale (her alma mater) and most recently by traveling to Rwanda with CARE, a global nonprofit aimed at social justice through female empowerment.
Young listed several accomplishments of Rwandan president Paul Kagame like installing a 20 percent quota for women in parliament, work towards equal pay, and more, when talking about her fascination with the country. “What he has managed to put in place at a national level, CARE is helping to get into the pipeline at the grassroots level,” she says. “They're doing programs like Safe Schools for Girls, where girls learn to save money and follow their dreams." In this program they also learn about what they could save money for, what relationship abuse looks like, and about family planning.
Young says she wasn't always this on top of her game. Success required a lot of work on quieting the pessimistic voice in her head that’s held her back before. Today, she says, that's become a little easier. And she now plans to use her platform and newfound badass attitude to make a difference. “My sofa is often enticing, but when I get to the end of my days, I hope I've seen more than the front of my TV set,” Young says with a laugh. “I just want to learn, live, help if I can, listen, laugh, and love people.”
Why she CARE(s): “I've known about CARE's work for years. They're in 94 countries, all over the world. And I've always been impressed that their goal is their own obsolescence,” Young says of her initial involvement with the organization. When she had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda for five days last month with the group, she says she couldn’t say yes fast enough. “CARE is not an organization that just gives charity. They put the focus on empowering women because they know that empowered women will bring their families and their communities up with them.”
Biggest inspirations: Aside from personal idols like Michelle Obama and the powerhouse women Young has gotten to work with on Scandal like showrunner Shonda Rhimes and lead Kerry Washington, Young says she found a different kind of badassery while in Rwanda. “I met this woman named Brigitte who, just five years ago, had no voice in her marriage and zero access to the money that her husband had. She became involved in one of the village savings and loans programs that CARE put in place. And through just saving a few francs here and there, she was able to buy five chickens,” Young says of one of her most eye-opening encounters on her trip. “Now she has 1,000 chickens. She gets 850 eggs a day. She has a vegetable farm. She employs three people. And she says, ‘This is not the top of my mountain. This is just my first dream.’”
VIDEO: Who Puts the #HerInHero CARE Initiative
Putting the #HerInHero": While in Rwanda, Young also filmed snippets of a “What Puts the #HerInHero” video (above) for CARE timed to this year’s International Women’s Day, March 8th. In the video, she joins other stars including Kelly Clarkson, Iman, Billie Jean King, Stephanie Beatriz, and more recognizing unsung heroes around the world, women who are bold, courageous, and capable of anything. The video kicks off a #March4Women initiative, aimed at raising $2 billion over five years to improve projects they have in areas such as education, work, maternal and child health, food and nutrition, and humanitarian and emergency response.
Grant’s greatest moment: What’s the most badass thing Young’s character Mellie ever did on Scandal? “Divorce Fitz and live her life. For decades, she kept waiting for him to say, ‘Okay, it's your turn.’ And finally, she said, ‘Hey, guess what? It's my turn.’ And she took it,” Young says. “[Right now] I hope she's in the seventh year of her second term and she's up for the Nobel Prize or something. I hope she's really living her fullest life, getting to use all of her mind and all of her heart. I hope the kids are home from school and she's finally in her ‘now,’ instead of always looking toward her future.”
Points of pride: Before stardom, Young studied English and theater at Yale. Her father had passed away, and her mom, a high school teacher, wouldn’t have been able to afford her education had it not been for a special scholarship. “It stopped me in my tracks to think: How must that feel, to give people an education? To give people a future?” Young says. “Then, because of Scandal (thank you, Shonda) I got to endow a scholarship at Yale. I'm so grateful that by doing something I love, somebody else every year gets to explore a little further, better themselves a little more, and help the world out along the way.”
Inner obstacles: For Young, any obstacles she faced along the way to her current happiness and success were primarily internal. She credits a “mean girl” in her head with limiting her life, until recently. “For me, it was really about getting a balanced relationship with the mean, mean girl in my mind,” she says. “I love my life right now. But there were many, many things like jobs, relationships, and dreams that she thwarted, utterly, by paralyzing me with fear.” Playing Mellie, according to young, has helped her quiet that mean voice in her head and instead look to what’s possible with hope and confidence. “I think so often, women lessen ourselves, quiet our light, and lower our voice,” she says. “I think the sheer fearlessness to meet every day with your complete wonder and courage, I think that's badass.”
Best advice: “Don't try to be anyone but yourself. In acting, that's people's greatest mistake,” Young says of what she’s learned in the biz. “And now it's all about generating content. So, take your iPhone, make a short, and tell the world who you are and what you have to say.”
Political prowess: Now, in her post-Scandal life, Young says politics play a more important role than ever. “Now I very much feel like democracy is a verb,” she says. “‘We the people’ have to be involved. And some people think they're invisible or that they don't matter — I wish everyone knew that our democracy depends on them, personally. It's about showing up, raising our voices, and loving each other.”
For more information on CARE, visit CARE.org.