When Bellamy Young auditioned for the role of Mellie Grant, the beautiful, revenge-obsessed first lady on ABC’s hit political thriller Scandal, one of her two scenes was set at Camp David. Young didn’t need anyone to tell her what the appropriate attire would be for a day at the president’s country retreat. “Mellie and I both firmly have Southern roots,” says the Asheville, North Carolina, native, who waltzed into the audition wearing navy-blue pedal pushers, an oxford shirt and flats—topped off with a pair of pearl earrings—and won the part.
Her character was originally scripted for only three episodes, but Young turned her fiercely intelligent, smiling steel magnolia into the scariest person in the room. Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes “decided Mellie was a delicious obstacle,” the actress says. Now, four seasons and many deranged plot twists later, Young, 44, turns giddy when pedestrians stop her. “I’ve been working forever to have someone say, ‘I love to hate your character,’ ” she says, referring to her 17 years of roles, some of them recurring, on TV shows like Dirty Sexy Money and Criminal Minds. “That’s actor catnip.”
As a kid, Amy Young (she became Bellamy when she registered for the Screen Actors Guild and discovered that her name was already taken) took singing and tap-dancing lessons, became a pageant-circuit regular and appeared in local summer theater. She later graduated from Yale and spent 10 years in the theater in productions such as the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along.
These days Young lives in Los Angeles, the perfect place for a meditation, ashtanga yoga and hiking enthusiast. In the morning she walks her dog, then drives to the Scandal set. She says it’s easier than you might think to flip the switch from calm, centered Angeleno to uptight, raging first lady. “The wig I wear is like a Vegas-showgirl hairpiece—it’s leonine,” says Young. “They braid my hair down and put that wig on my head, and I am transformed.”
Related: Bellamy Young Stuns in Spring Styles