'Scandal' star Joe Morton talks Emmy, reveals the secret to Papa Pope
Joe Morton entered the Scandal world in season two, but it wasn’t until Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope identified him as her “Dad” in the finale that Papa Pope really came to life. In season three, Morton perfected the art of powerful monologues as Papa Pope, delivering mesmerizing speech after mesmerizing speech all while slowly taking over Olivia’s entire world (and that of B-613). But after this morning’s news—that Morton has been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama—the actor could be delivering a new type of speech come August 25.
EW spoke with Morton soon after his nomination to get his reaction—and find out how he’s so good at being so evil.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where were you when you found out this morning?
JOE MORTON: I was down in the basement working out, watching CNN on the television and going through the morning news trying not to think about what might or might not happen today. Of course, they moved into their Emmy segment and the first thing they was, “Well, the Emmy announcements have been made. The announcements are over.” And I thought, “Oh, well…” And then they talked about who was going to be best actor nominations, best actress nominations, best show so on and so forth, and I thought, “Well, the phone hasn’t rung; I must assume that I didn’t get a nomination.” No sooner than I think that and it was Lauren, my publicist on the phone, with the good news.
Did you finish your workout, or did you decide that you’d done enough and got to go celebrate?
No, I went upstairs and I let my girlfriend and her family kind of know what was happening. Then of course, the phones started ringing. Then, my agents called and my manager called and my friends called and my relatives called, so it’s been that kind of morning, which has been wonderful.
Looking back on all of the work that you’ve done as Papa Pope, do you have a favorite scene or speech?
I think there are about three of them that are my favorites. One being the very first one at the beginning of the season, which is “You have work twice as hard to get half as much.” Then, of course, the boy speech to Fitz, and then the one I call “183,” which is when I tell [Olivia] that I was responsible for 183 deaths, and she says “What’s the point?” And I talk about what it means to be Command, and that she should forgive Jake on some level, and then go into this whole thing about how everyone deserves saving and that, in fact, she is the point. Those three are my favorite.
Do you know which episode was submitted?
No. Offhand, I don’t remember. They sent the ABC package and I think it was episode one ,or maybe the last episode. I don’t remember, to be honest.
You’re so mesmerizing in these speeches. What is your secret to being so deliciously evil?
I suppose it’s a combination of wonderful writing to begin with. To be given the gift of all those wonderful monologues is just tremendous. Two, having a positive point of view. I don’t think you can play a villain with a negative point of view. I think every villain basically thinks that he or she is doing something to make his world, or the world in general, a better place. In the case of Papa Pope, certainly he’s making his daughter’s world and the world of the republic a much better place. So, that’s the basis of where I start.
Is there a side to this character that either you haven’t gotten to explore or that you would love to explore further in the future?
Well, there’s a curiosity I guess that I have. I mean, he obviously refuses to kill his wife. So I would like to investigate exactly what that relationship is, cause it must have been at some point enormously complicated. I mean, he at one point confesses that the guy that he killed in her office was the one who suggested to Maya that “you marry this guy,” marry me in order to get information. So at some point, I must’ve known what was going on. At that point, the relationship between Maya and Rowan must’ve been enormously complicated, because I think somewhere, there is some love. Because, as they say, he refuses to do away with her, so there must be some reason that he’s holding on to her.
I’ll ask you one last question that we’re asking all of the nominees. If you could give any show, past or present, an Emmy just because you personally love it, what show would it be?
Well, Breaking Bad. When I started watching that show, I thought it was terrific. I love the way it was shot. I love the writing. I love the arc of Bryan Cranston’s character. I just thought that was just really, really a wonderful, wonderful show. I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I don’t [know] all of the series that are out there, but that one in particular really sort of caught my eye. I really thought that was some incredible work all around.