The actress, newly promoted to regular on Showtime’s “Homeland,” previews what’s ahead on ABC’s political thriller.
ABC’s Scandal will explore the cryptic smooth-talking Gladiator Harrison’s (Columbus Short) relationship with terrorist Adnan Salif (played by Homeland’s Nazanin Boniadi) during this week’s episode.
Titled “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the hour will feature Adnan again turning to Harrison for help, while Rowan (Joe Morton) warns Olivia (Kerry Washington) to drop her investigation into black-ops group B613 as the Grant family reunites for the cameras amid President Fitzgerald Grant’s (Tony Goldwyn) re-election campaign.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Boniadi to find out why Adnan hasn’t taken Harrison’s life, what Clearwater is and how the Grant campaign might respond to news that they’ve received a financial donation from a terrorist.
What’s the biggest difference between Scandal and Homeland?
The “Scandal pace.” There’s a sense of urgency that goes along with the show; it’s really fast. On Homeland, there’s more of a chance to let things linger. The camera holds on actors a little bit more so that the pacing is a tad bit slower. That’s what I was used to. On Scandal, everything is very fast. It was something to get used to.
How much did you know about Scandal before you were cast? Were you a fan?
I hadn’t watched it before I booked the show but I marathoned it after I was cast and it’s rather addictive. That’s where I really started learning the Scandal pace because I sensed right off the bat that this show is very different from Homeland.
Many suspected that Adnan Salif was a man. How did you respond when you found out that you’d be playing a terrorist? When did you find out?
Adnan was mentioned in season one in conjunction with Harrison’s storyline. I knew that it was a highly anticipated character, that’s all I knew. I did get the sense that everybody thought it was a guy so I went into the audition with the same questions as everybody else. I love the fact that [producers] kept it a big mystery. If you listen carefully from the beginning of season one, they don’t really refer to Adnan as male or female. They don’t say if it’s a guy but I think people just assumed because Adnan is usually a male name and the fact that Harrison was scared, I think people just assumed it was a man.
We know Adnan has a connection to Harrison’s past. How much can we expect to learn about their previous relationship?
In Thursday’s episode, you’ll really get a sense of the complications in their relationship. Harrison and Adnan, it’s not a clear-cut relationship. It’s not one where he’s just scared of her. It will be revealed if there’s any love there. You’ll get more insight into why he’s the only one left that she hasn’t killed out of the group from that picture he first revealed a number of episodes back. Why is he alive and standing? Is that because she loved him? Is that because they love each other? Why is that? Those questions will be answered.
Does she trust Harrison? Should he trust her?
That’s the thing, people can fear love; people can fear something that they’re weak for or weak around. If you have some kind of vulnerability to something, you can still fear it. It means that you can’t trust yourself around that person. That’s where that fear comes into play.
Adnan has hired Maya Pope to collaborate on something. What can you say about what she has planned?
I can’t say much but I will say that I think when Adnan went to Marie Wallace (aka Mama Pope) and hired her to help her with her plans, she didn’t anticipate she’d be one-upped or that she had found her match. Adnan is a tough woman and she’s not used to having anyone outsmart her in any way. She’s a bit thrown off right now wondering if this woman she hired is going to toe the line. Is she going to do as I say or is she a loose cannon?
Adnan thought she was hiring a terrorist in Maya Pope but now they have to hire a terrorist since Maya is a “facilitator.” Might Adnan have helped Maya stay in the country after Olivia sent her off?
I don’t think so. That was truly Olivia asking the president’s help and I don’t think Adnan necessarily had any role in that. I think their collaboration probably started a little bit later.
We’ve seen Adnan briefly get cold feet and turn to Harrison for an escape route. What’s her biggest fear?
That will be answered this week. This is Adnan’s biggest episode of the season and it will answer a lot of the questions that all the Gladiators have. Is she really as bad as Marie Wallace? Does she love Harrison? All these questions will be answered.
Secrets on Scandal do not last long. How might what Adnan is up to factor into the presidential election?
I can’t speak to that.
We know Adnan has had a role in insider trading and something called Clearwater. What can you say about that?
Not much! (Laughs.) It’s one of those things that we’ve talked about several times throughout the season. Clearwater has come up but it’s something that she’s holding over Harrison’s head. It’s what empowers her when she wants something and when she wants Harrison to do something for her.
Cyrus is aware that the money didn’t come from someone the Grant campaign would like to be tied to. How will that hurt them?
That will be revealed in the next few episodes. There are questions that may even linger beyond the end of the season. Jeff Perry said there is remorse that Cyrus will go through about some of the decisions he’s made. He even said Adnan’s one of them. But that collaboration of helping getting back Adnan and getting Adnan back into the country is one of them. How can that not affect him?
How does Clearwater compare to things we’ve seen before on the show, like Defiance?
[It's the same] in the sense that everybody has something on everybody else on the show Everybody is both good and bad. Everybody has a dark side and a good side. Adnan holding something over Harrison — Clearwater — is that dark past that she’s using and it shows that Harrison isn’t squeaky clean. He’s a Gladiator, yes, and he’s changed his ways, but he also has a dark past. In that sense, it’s a common thread throughout the show that everybody has something to hide, something to lose, something that they want to hold on to. They are all risking things and they’re trying to achieve something, but they also don’t want to let that one thing in their life ruin what they’re trying to achieve.
Why has Adnan kept Harrison alive?
Adnan may have killed in the past, but there’s a reason why she’s kept Harrison alive and it’s not because she just wants him to do her dirty work for her. Adnan is someone who is after money, yes, but I don’t think she necessarily wants to do all the evil that Marie Wallace necessarily wants or is prepared to do to get what she wants. The difference between Mama Pope and Adnan Salif is that Marie Wallace has already been in jail for extended periods of time and she’s willing to do what Adnan isn’t. Adnan just doesn’t want to go to jail and she doesn’t want to end up dead. She’s more careful. That’s really all I can say.
You’ve been promoted to regular on Homeland. Is it fair to expect that Adnan won’t survive long in this high-stakes world?
It always meant to be an eight-episode arc. Who knows what the future holds but this portion of it will be done in eight episodes and then I have to go to Homeland. Shonda Rhimes always reminds us that there’s never a clear end on Scandal for any character.
Would you like to return for another round?
I am just dying to work with them again down the line in whatever capacity, whether it’s Scandal or something else. I adore Shonda, [EP] Betsy Beers, Kerry Washington and everyone on the show.
Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.