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Close Up: Joe Morton

The actor talks about his upcoming roles in ”Terminator 2” and ”City of Hope”

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If they just need a black face on-screen,” says Joe Morton, ”I’m not particularly interested.” But as long as a role avoids tokenism, it doesn’t have to be huge; this summer a minor but pivotal part in Terminator 2: Judgment Day has provided the veteran actor with his biggest hit yet. Morton, 43, who lives in Brooklyn and Santa Monica, Calif., with his second wife, production designer Nora Chavooshian, and son Ara, 2, took the role — a brilliant scientist who holds the earth’s fate in his hands — because ”there are things I wish to achieve that I can’t unless I involve myself with a ‘big- bucks movie.”’ Such as bigger parts in smaller films: Next month moviegoers will see Morton in City of Hope, John Sayles’ sprawling drama of political turmoil in a fictional New Jersey city. Amid 30 characters, Morton stands out as an ambitious councilman. ”There’s a lot on the page,” says Morton of Sayles’ densely layered screenplay. ”It’s ideal for an actor to have that much to work with.”

With the cancellation of ABC’s Equal Justice (costar Morton, typically, won a role conceived for an Italian-American), the actor is out of a TV job. But he’s lured by news of a possible series based on Sayles’ 1984 comedy, The Brother From Another Planet, in which Morton broke through as a mute extraterrestrial in Harlem. ”I have doubts about how it can work,” he says. ”You wouldn’t want it to be Kung Fu or Murder, She Wrote. But I’ll probably be one of the first people to [call the producers] and say, ‘What’s happening with this?”’