Role of Lifetime: An Interview With Bellamy Young
Bellamy Young would be a perfect cover story for any issue of CVLUX. After all, she’s won a Critics’ Choice Award for her role as Mellie Grant on Scandal, her debut album, Far Away So Close, showcases a mountain of musical talent and she’s repeatedly being seen in the media for her activism. But Bellamy is a particularly perfect interview subject as we head into the holiday season. While reflecting upon her varied experiences in both life and entertainment, Bellamy genuinely couldn’t stop being thankful.
Raised in Asheville, North Carolina by adoptive parents, Bellamy was first introduced to the life of performing as a way to connect with the birth mother she never met.
“One of the little things we thought we knew is that my birth mother loved to sing,” Bellamy remembers. “My mom always gave me opportunities to sing at school, at church, at pageants...”
This compassionate act in and of itself shows the love-filled environment that nurtured a young Bellamy. Instead of cloaking her origins in secret, or trying to mold Bellamy in the shape of her adoptive family, her mother decided to embrace the place from which Bellamy came. And the result?
“I loved it,” Bellamy gushes. “It was always a real solace and haven for me.”
Once her love of singing was firmly in place, Bellamy went off to a very prestigious college.
“I picked Yale because I knew they had this thriving singing group scene, and I wanted to study physics; I thought I could do both at once.” But things didn’t go exactly as planned. “Turns out...I was not good at physics on the world’s stage,” Bellamy laughs, recalling the end of her scientific ambitions. “But I sang, then I started with theatre, and wound up with an English and Drama double major.”
She’s not being braggadocious at all, but it certainly would throw anyone for a loop to not only change career aspirations, but to then excel in a new field you never intended to enter. The fact that Bellamy fell into theater and then became so successful at it she was able to make a life doing it? Pretty impressive stuff.
Studying drama is risky, of course; it’s the kind of choice that has made generations of relatives bat an eye while making small talk over turkey and stuffing. But Bellamy avoided the trap of waitressing into which many new performers fall, finding work as an actor right out of college.
“My first job was a national tour of Meet Me in St. Louis,” Bellamy remembers. “It was the best thing in the world, getting paid to see the country and sing and act.” While reflecting, Bellamy can’t help but inject some of her signature gratitude. “From then on, it’s been such a gift, this career. I love every day of what I get to do.”
And she’s certainly done a lot. She could be seen on Broadway in award-winning shows like The Life, Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, and Randy Newman’s Faust. She’s appeared as a guest on over 30 television shows, including The X Files, ER, Frasier, and in what would prove to be critical for her career years later—both Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Young was in a number of films, too, including the 2002 war epic We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson.
Though she had been working for years, Bellamy is the first to say that she wasn’t a famous actress by any means.
“I was 39, [and] many people would not consider the career I had built one to marvel at by any measure.” But she was happy with the work, she tells us. “You build your life one day at a time and keep going to auditions and you keep doing the recurring jobs, and you keep giving what you have to give and hopefully someone’s watching.”
And someone was watching. That someone? Linda Lowy, the casting director for Shonda Rhimes’ hit shows Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. In 2012 Lowy was looking to cast the First Lady in Rhimes’ new pilot, Scandal. Lowy remembered Bellamy from previous roles. The role had only two lines of dialogue in the pilot episode, but Bellamy was thrilled.
“Mellie Grant is the role of a lifetime,” she says of her being cast by Rhimes.
After filming the pilot, ABC decided to air a season of Scandal. A meeting at the beginning of that first season served as a sobering reminder that the character of Mellie Grant was originally intended to be short-lived.
“Shonda was going around the table telling everyone their story for the season,” says Bellamy. “[Shonda] said ‘you’re going to be here for three episodes,’... and I died inside because I thought, ‘these people are so wonderful I just wanna be here forever!’”
Many actors might panic at such a great opportunity with so clear an ending date. But after years of performing in theater, television and film, Bellamy simply did what she’d always done. She acted her heart out, really giving herself to the character of Mellie and to the material that the writers created.
“The only thing that I’ve gleaned over all these years is that your only power is that your story is your own, and to bring your lens, that specific truth is what makes it universal,” Bellamy advises. “The more honest you can be with your truth, with yourself, the more universal your art can become.”
And Bellamy’s particular lens certainly struck a chord with both writers and fans of Scandal. Originally brought on for only a few episodes, Bellamy was made a series regular before the second season.
“It was a slow burn and really delicious every step of the way,” Bellamy tells us.
The fervor that Scandal has created brought Bellamy into millions of households, and it also brought her back to her original love: singing. There was a Scandal-themed day at Dodger Stadium, and naturally Bellamy was picked to sing the National Anthem. A knockout performance (seriously, check it out on YouTube) served as a call to arms for friends, family and fans.
“I had a lot of our gladiators start to push me about making an album,” she says, “and it had been a dream of mine since I was a person who could dream, but I felt a bit of a fraud because I wasn’t writing music.” Bellamy avoided recording an album in the past because she didn’t write her own music, and to her it didn’t feel like the genuine thing to do.
“As a Southerner and as an adoptee, I am so often thinking through someone else’s lens,” Bellamy reflects. “‘Am I doing it right?’ ‘Am I what they want?’ and that’s never a place either of personal peace or of strength.”
Instead, Bellamy decided to approach the album in the most Bellamy way possible. Alexandra Patsavas of Chop Shop Music, the music supervisor for Scandal, led Bellamy to producer, Brad Wood, and the two picked songs Bellamy already knew and loved.
“We picked songs that are a little sad, and a little down, and a little bit about death,” Bellamy says with a laugh, “and I am so proud of this album.” Covering songs by artists as varied as Ryan Adams and Pink, Far Away So Close is a testament to Bellamy Young’s love of singing for singing’s sake. “It’s almost more than I can take in,” she says, “it’s such a gift.”
The only thing that might make the gracious Bellamy Young not seem like a perfect interview during the indulgent holiday season? Since 1988, the actress has embraced a vegan lifestyle.
“It’s not a pretty word, vegan; I wish they’d branded it better. It feels like it has to be punitive but it doesn’t!” After listing favorite dishes that include a veganized version of her mother’s biscuits and sausage gravy, chocolate mousse, and a multitude of Thanksgiving sides, we at CVLUX think she might be right.
But Bellamy makes it clear that she didn’t start out as an animal activist. “I was a sophomore at Yale, I had grown up not thinking about things, and I ordered a baked breast of chicken. They plated it sort of awkwardly and as I lowered it down to my tray it looked just like the little, yippy dog my mom had when it rolled over and wanted you to pet its tummy.”
In an instant, Bellamy decided to stop eating meat. “I’ve loved where that strange little moment in the dining hall has taken me. I get to lead a life that honors life.”
From changing majors, to trying acting, to embracing the hard work that a life of performing requires, to throwing herself into the role of a lifetime, Bellamy Young has entered each phase of her life with equal parts guts and gratitude. We’re planning on following her example as we navigate these festive and stressful winter months. And we’re definitely planning on asking Bellamy’s mom for that biscuit recipe.
Features Editor Logan Guntzelman
Photographer Jim Jordan
Fashion Director Lauren K.T. Wilson
Fashion Editor Genelle Taylor Kumpe
Stylist Ali Levine
Stylist Assistants Cristina Fabian & Chani Patel Hair Aaron Light
Makeup Scott Barnes Manicurist Elisa Wishan
Produced in conjunction with White Cross Productions and White Cross Studios