(L-R) Creator and Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes, actress Kerry Washington and Co-Executive Producer Judy Smith speak during the 'Scandal' panel during the ABC portion of the 2012 Winter TCA Tour held at The Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa on Jan. 10, 2012 in Pasadena, Calif.

*This spring, Kerry Washington will begin her starring run in ABC’s “Scandal,” the new Shonda Rhimes drama set in the world of crisis management in the Nation’s Capital.

As previously reported, Washington’s character, Olivia Pope, is based on the real life DC fixer Judy Smith, who has been hired to clean up some of the city’s more spectacular messes, including those of Monica Lewinsky and former mayor Marion Barry.

Rhimes, speaking Tuesday at the TCA press tour in Pasadena, said production partner Betsy Beers was the first to nudge her toward crafting a show based on Smith and her firm.

“Betsy Beers kept telling me I needed to meet a woman named Judy Smith, and I kept saying I don’t want to write another show,” Rhimes told reporters. “And she kept saying, ‘But you need to meet Judy Smith,’ and I said ‘I’ll meet her for 15 minutes.’ And we met her for 15 minutes and that turned into two and a half hours. And I saw a hundred episodes and an incredibly interesting world and got really excited.”

(L-R Standing): Guillermo Diaz, Columbus Short, Jeff Perry, Tony Goldwyn, Henry Ian Cusick (L-R Seated) Darby Stanchfield, Katie Lowes, Kerry Washington

In the pilot, premiering in April, Pope is running her own firm after having served as a media relations consultant to the President of the United States.  The episode is fast paced, including the dialogue, and sees her dealing with several different crises – including a doozy in which she is involved.

Washington says one of the great advantages of playing the Judy Smith-based role is being allowed to get inside of her head.

“It has been fun to learn how to think more like Judy. She’s a very strategic thinker,” says Washington. “I’m not really a chess player, but that’s how Judy does what she does. She’s always thinking three steps ahead of the media, four steps ahead of the legal system and five steps ahead of her client. That has been a really fun thing for me to explore – thinking in that way.”

In the audio below, Washington talks about the historical significance of being an African American woman starring in a prime time series.

“Scandal” premieres Thursday, April 5, at 10 p.m. on ABC. [Scroll down to watch the promo.]

Scandal’s Kerry Washington on the historical significance of her starring role by CherieNic