Why Kerry Washington Couldn’t Judge Her Conservative Character In The Prom

In a movie musical jam-packed with fun and inclusive messages, Kerry Washington had to get serious for Netflix's The Prom. The Scandal actress plays the head of a high school PTA in small-town Indiana, who rules to cancel the prom after Jo Ellen Pellman’s Emma asks if she can take her girlfriend to the annual dance. Washington’s conservative character is key to the Broadway adaptation, but was a unique undertaking for her to take on.

When CinemaBlend spoke to Kerry Washington and Ariana DeBose of Hamilton and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story remake, I asked her how stepping into the role may have altered her own perspective. Here’s what Washington said in response:

For me, to be tasked with somebody who has a more conservative ideology was a really interesting challenge for me. Like, I’m a very progressive, inclusive-minded kind of person so I really had to dive in and think about how to approach this character with a lot of compassion and empathy because if I hate her, I can’t be her. So, I had to try to not judge her and accept her the same way they were asking her to accept Alyssa and say where is this coming from, where is this fear coming from with her? And how can I bring some of that real understanding and humanity to that character. So it wound up being really, really fun but it was an exciting challenge.

The Prom’s Mrs. Greene is much different than Kerry Washington and has some opposing values to her own. But in order for the actress to play her best, she told us she felt like she needed to come at the character from a place of compassion and non-judgement. It’s interesting to hear how ideologies may change how an actor might approach a role, and while Washington was not prescribing to the beliefs of the PTA head, she found a way to appreciate and accept her.

Kerry Washington’s message about her character speaks to The Prom’s message about meeting different beliefs halfway in order to make room for acceptance from the left and the right. In Ryan Murphy’s musical, adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name, a group of failed Broadway actors venture to the Indiana town to protest on behalf of Emma after reading about it online, with every intention for their “activism” to boost their reputations. Although they are coming from a place of love, they are also facing blindspots related to their privilege and selfishness.

Throughout the antics of The Prom, which also stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells and Tracey Ullman, the characters each get their own lessons in empathy and understanding over judgement. So Kerry Washington’s own experience playing a conservative mother unaccepting of LGBTQ+ relationships is fitting.

The Prom has debuted on Netflix to positive reviews from critics and audiences, but if you’re not a musical theater fan, the movie may not be your jam. Check out what other big movies are hitting Netflix before the end of the year with CinemaBlend’s list of the Netflix originals lineup.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.