“Most of my career I’ve spent doing good guys purposely,” revealed Joe Morton during our recent webcam chat (watch above). As he explains, “when I first started in this business, the kinds of roles that were being offered to black actors mostly were pimps or drug addicts or bugaboos of one sort or another. So I made a decision not to do that.” However, by the time the role of Rowan Pope on “Scandal” came along in 2012, he was ready to try something new. “I thought it would be really interesting to find someone who was very smart, and who was a villain.”
“Scandal” stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a former White House politico who runs a crisis management firm. Her father, Rowan, who we were introduced to in season 2, turns out to be the conniving head of a mysterious spy agency. “It’s an untoward relationship,” says Morton. “He is a man of tremendous power, who will also do anything and everything he can to protect her, when at the same time he is going after whatever political piece of power he’s after.”
Morton won the Drama Guest Actor Emmy in 2013 for the third season episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” in which we discover the origins of their distant relationship. “I was purely satisfied with having gotten the nomination,” he recalls. “There were so many people in that category who had been on TV a lot longer than I had, who, in some cases, had been acting longer than I had. So winning the award was both a relief and a surprise.” After recurring again for season 4, he joined the cast as a regular this past season.
He also featured in the recent HBO film “All the Way,” a docudrama centered on the efforts of president Lyndon B. Johnson (Bryan Cranston) to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1965. He played NAACP head Roy Wilkins, a proponent of American values, and often criticized known and suspected communists during the Cold War. Morton admits to differing politically from the famous figurehead, yet concedes, “I thought it was clearly important to present what conservative black men, if you will, at that time period were trying to do.” And there was a synchronicity to playing the head of this organization, which has bestowed three Image Awards on Morton for his work on “Scandal.”
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