Joe Morton has played a lot of good guys over the years — a lot of doctors, law enforcement officials, even a Supreme Court Justice. But he's really enjoying playing the bad guy on "Scandal."
Morton's Rowan was a mysterious operator last season, but many jaws dropped when Olivia called him "Dad." This season, fans are finding out a lot more about "Eli Pope," who turns out to be the powerful head of the CIA-like B-613. He's got ties to Huck and Jake, knows something very upsetting about President Fitzgerald Grant's past, and can unnerve even Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene.
Morton chatted with Yahoo TV about his enigmatic character, how he's like Olivia Pope himself, and what to expect from the rest of the season.
1. Did you model your performance on what Kerry Washington was doing as Olivia to make it really seem like you're father and daughter?
I don't know that I modeled anything after Kerry. When I watched the show, certain [things about] her character's idiosyncrasies were mine on my own. The character loves drinking red wine and popcorn, and that's one of my favorite things to do.
2. Nobody else knew Rowan was Olivia's father until that big finale, but you did. How did you approach the role knowing that the rest of cast didn't know your character's true identity?
I could carry around this wonderful secret, which is what Rowan does — he has a lot of secrets. That helped me figure out who this guy is. What I ultimately did was I took a quote from Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," and my mantra for Rowan is he's a guy who uses his judgement, who makes clear and understands the lay of the land he's involved in. He's obviously someone who's collected power, influence, and contracts and he stays in the dark and uses them.
3. In a show full of morally-gray characters, Rowan seems to be at the very end of the spectrum. Is he "Scandal's" big bad?
For all intents and purposes, probably so. He probably has the strongest agenda in terms of how far he's willing to go to get something done. His job is to maintain the security of the republic so in his terms, whatever that takes. It's like what Malcolm X said, by all means necessary. So in those terms, yes, he's probably the most villainous character in the show.
Watch a scene with Morton and Washington:
4. Will we continue learning about his past?
I think you will. This season you're going to see lots of flashbacks in terms of relationships between Olivia and her dad, so you're going to see what that dynamic was and how that led where he is today. What Shonda [Rhimes] does, she likes to keep things layered, and as quickly as the show moves, she likes to ladle things out slowly.
5. Last week, it was a surprise that Rowan actually released Jake. What's his agenda there?
A deal is a deal, right? Olivia says that if she broke her relationship with the president, then I would let Jake out of the hole. There may be something behind it, you'll just have to wait and see. He wants to protect his daughter. She is someone he loves. And for whatever reason, that love has been maintained at a distance. Again, over time, you'll see why that's so.
6. Both Olivia and Huck said that Rowan "owns" them. Does he maybe want to use Jake to control Olivia?
I don't know that control is the issue. I'm not that sure that he'd rather she be with Jake, then Fitz. He would not want her to be with Fitz for any number of reasons — one, Fitz is married, two, Fitz is president of the United States. Jake — only because Jake is part of B-613, and B-613 operatives are not supposed to have families or relationships like that. And probably he wouldn't want her to be with Jake because of Jake's training, and there is a certain amount of control that B-613 and Command in particular have over his operatives. So that sounds like it might be dangerous for Olivia.
7. "Scandal" has made Kerry a huge star. What's it like working with her?
She's a lovely, lovely human being to begin with. Quite smart. Gifted as an actress. And generous in terms of being the lead in this show. She doesn't think of the show as being hers; she thinks of the show as being an ensemble. Even further than that, I've seen when we've done scenes together that she'll actually make an effort to — out loud — applaud the background artists who've been working with us to let them know that their contribution to the scene is as important as what we're doing.
8. Shonda's shows are notorious for fast talking. Did you have to practice that?
Not really. I guess I'm used to doing theater, where sometimes that's quite necessary. As a matter of fact, I think most of the regulars on the show all have theater backgrounds. It becomes something that you just realize, oh, this is the tempo of the show and you begin to study it at way. The so-called "Scandal" tempo. It's really not all that difficult.
9. Like the rest of the cast, you're on Twitter (@JoetheMorton). Have you enjoyed interacting with the fans? What's the response to Rowan been like?
It's been great. It's been a lot of fun, and it actually makes the show even more fun than it is. My interactions have been directly to the audience, to the fans, and they have a huge investment in the show and a huge investment in each and every one of the characters I think what they're enjoying is Rowan has turned into the character they love to hate.
"Scandal" airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.