The Scandal star sat down with Oprah Winfrey for the lifestyle guru's Super Soul Session Sunday, and Washington talked about how tough it was to land a role before getting her hit show.
"In the beginning of my career I was often told to fix things like fix your teeth, wear your hair differently or dress differently or I was too ethnic or I didn't speak black enough ... Whatever it was," Washington, 39, told Winfrey. "These were the reasons why I wasn't making it in the beginning of my career."
Washington believes her determination not to change to make it in the industry was why her earlier attempts failed.
"Before I did Scandal I did two other pilots for TV shows," she recalled. "Both of them got picked up, but I was fired, 'We love the show but she's gotta go.' "
"I think because I've always been me. I didn't really conform. I didn't really change those things that people told me I had to change."
But when Washington was cast in Scandal, she was thrilled that she did it while staying true to herself.
"When my career has been angled to unfold I felt like it was because I was being myself," she said. "So I don't think I was gonna be awarded for being someone else because I never have been and also I just don't have the energy."
"Honestly, I've never had this thought before sitting here with you – but I think I spent the first 20 years of my life trying to be somebody else so I just don't have the energy at this point."
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Washington had said earlier in her conversation with Winfrey that growing up, she always compared herself to a friend, and never thought she measured up.
"Another young woman I grew up with was much fairer skinned than I was, with much straighter hair and that meant that she was prettier," Washington explained. "I think part of that was because how that impact sort of rippled out with other people culturally were the images I was getting."
"Yes, most of the beginning of my life I was fighting the idea that I was not enough. That I had to be fixed."
But now Washington is not afraid to make her opinions known if she's not happy with how she's portrayed. On Tuesday, she called out Adweek magazine because she believed the cover photo of her looked Photoshopped.
For more on Washington's interview with Winfrey, visit www.SuperSoul.tv.