By Eliana Dockterman
September 24, 2015

Kerry Washington fans are eagerly awaiting the return of Scandal Thursday night, but when season four wrapped last year, the star wasn’t so sure that the show would be back.

“I’m excited because a lot of times when a show’s central couple gets together it’s because it’s the end of the show,” Washington told TIME. “I thought we might be at the end of Scandal when we read the season finale last year. I was like, ‘Are we done? I thought we got picked up for another season, no?’ But it turns out we are back.”

She says the continuation of Olivia and Fitz’s relationship is exciting new territory. “On our show, as in life, when Fitz and Olivia get together, it’s actually a beginning of an entirely new kind of journey for them that’s unexpected in a lot of ways,” she said, teasing twists.

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Thursday will also see the return of another Shonda Rhimes-produced show, How to Get Away With Murder, and its star Viola Davis, who became the first black woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama on Sunday. Washington got emotional during fellow Shondaland actress Davis’ acceptance speech and told TIME she’s ready to get past these milestones and concentrate on performances.

“I was so relieved that the moment had happened because she and I have talked about the fact that when Scandal first premiered, all of the attention was about it being the first time a black woman had been the lead of a network show in almost 40 years. And now for this Emmys, it was the first time an African-American woman had won an Emmy for drama,” she said. “You want the first to happen so that it can stop being about identity politics and just start being about excellence.”

MORE: Viola Davis Just Became the First Black Woman to Win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series

Washington also praised producer Shonda Rhimes and Selma director Ava DuVernay for the opportunities that they have created for women of all races on television and in film. “She’s absolutely disrupting filmmaking,” she said of DuVernay. “There are those directors like her and Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee who are auteurs and say I know what Hollywood wants, but I’m an artist and I’m going to do what’s important to me.”

The Scandal star joined Empire‘s Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige in three Apple Music commercials directed by DuVernay, the first of which aired during the Emmys and quickly went viral.

“Ava had all three of us write down tons of songs that we loved throughout our lives and asked us a bunch of questions like, ‘Tell me three songs you love about heartache’ or ‘Tell me three songs that you love that nobody would know that you love.’ And then we took it from there,” says Washington. Though the women had a lot of overlap in their music choices, Washington says she was a big fan of Slick Rick “being a girl from he Bronx.”

Read Next: Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige and Kerry Washington Team Up in Apple Music Ad

Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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