Rowan Pope is an enigma, a man you can never really know, because he is a man with so many faces. Joe Morton plays SCANDAL’s darkest force with just the right balance of charm and terror. We settled in with Morton to talk Season 6.
HYDROGEN MAGAZINE: SCANDAL is back for season 6. How excited are you?
JOE MORTON: I’m not only terribly excited to be back to work and back on the air, but I’m excited for the audience. I think there’s going to be some very compelling, gripping, and exhilarating episodes coming up for them to enjoy and be shocked by.
HM: You of course play Rowan Pope, father to DC fixer, Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington. When you first took on the role, did you know Rowan would be such an integral part of the show?
JM: No. All I knew was that I would be revealed as her father at the end of season 2, six episodes after I joined the show as a recurring character. It wasn’t until season 3 that it began to dawn on me that Shonda was going to use the character very heavily. As a recurring character, I was in every episode that season, which is very unusual.
Season 3 was when I was honored with an Emmy as a guest star. In fact, the rules were changed after I won. If a guest is in more than half the number of season episodes, he or she can longer compete as a guest, they must enter the fray as a supporting actor.
HM: Whether Rowan is on the screen or not, his presence is always lurking, because he controls so much and so many. Talk to me about Rowan’s reach and I suppose, his power…
JM: Rowan’s power is extensive, but a lot of that comes from his considerable intel. He has something on just about everybody, whether they be in government or a private citizen. He has money, and money not only talks, but gets other people to talk or provide the grease to accomplish whatever action he’s contemplating.
HM: Rowan’s best trait and his worst…
JM: His use of language, intelligence, and skill as a real-life chess player concerning the republic and his protection of his daughter are his most admirable traits. His coldness and willingness to murder are his less attractive qualities. However, he does all that he does because he believes he’s keeping the republic safe and his daughter’s life better.
HM: They say the devil always has the best lines and I have to say, Rowan gets some pretty good ones. Give me one of your favorites from the vault…
JM: My favorite speeches are: I am the hell and the high water, you are a boy (to Fitz), and the speech in which Rowan tells Olivia that everyone, including monsters, are worth saving, and that her job is to bring everyone into the light.
HM: To say Rowan’s relationship with Olivia is complicated is an understatement. I would describe it as psychological warfare, with each having the upper hand at different times. How would you explain their fraught dynamic?
JM: In many ways, their relationship is no different than that of any other father and daughter … just far more extreme. He’s constantly teaching her how to stand on her own and how to take what she wants/needs, even if it means going against him, even if it means she’s out to get him. He knows who he is and wants her to know unequivocally, who she is.
HM: In one sense, I see them as two sides of the same coin. And by that, I mean both Rowan and Olivia wield an enormous amount of power in their respective worlds, power they both relish although Rowan would likely cop to that charge first. I actually see more similarities in them than I’d like to admit. What say you?
JM: As I was saying, like father, like daughter. The apple, even if somewhat poisoned, does not fall to far from the proverbial tree. We are the products of our environment and upbringing. Olivia was brought up to know how to achieve and use power to her advantage.
She lives and works in one of the most power hungry cities in the world, Washington, DC. They are, as you describe it, two sides of the same coin; she has been, for the longest time, the light — the one wearing the white hat, and Rowan works for the same things as his daughter, but from the shadows.
HM: Where does their relationship go in Season 6?
JM: That, you’ll have to wait to discover as it plays out before you.
HM: There is an election that has been decided, but there is also the matter of Jake, who Rowan has put under his thumb, orchestrating Jake’s marriage to further his own agenda. Talk to me about that relationship…
JM: Rowan manipulates Jake’s wedding to keep his daughter alive. Jake, like Fitz, is someone who has had power thrust upon him, but doesn’t really hunger for it. Jake is someone who has been completely “radicalized” by his B613 training — just as certain personalities are prime to be turned into terrorists, Jake has been turned into one of Rowan’s sons. As one of Rowan’s B613 sons, Jake knows he will be protected as long as he does what Rowan needs done.
HM: When I see brief flashes of humanity in Rowan, perhaps over one of those legendary dinners with Olivia over fine wine and a Michelin-star-worthy meal, I think how different it all could have been. Is redemption in the cards for Rowan, or is it a case of once a puppet-master, always a puppet-master?
JM: There are certain occupations, if you will, from which one cannot withdraw. You cannot take Command, Command takes you..and never lets you go. Redemption is only sought when one believes they have sinned. If, as I’ve put forward earlier, Rowan believes that what he does makes the world (or his world) a better place, there is no reason, from his point of view, to seek absolution.
HM: Be honest, how much fun is it to play one of the baddest men on television?
JM: I’m having a great time. There are so many layers to this character, so many twists and turns. Going to work is a real joy!
HM: You and Kerry Washington truly read as father and daughter in a very authentic-feeling way. Tell me about working with Kerry over the last few years…
JM: Our relationship off-camera is warm, caring, and trust-worthy, which allows us to be vicious, loving, suspicious, father-daughter adversaries, on-camera. We never talk about our scenes before or while doing them, unless there is something specific that has to be unraveled.
We enjoy very much working together because we trust one another to be, as Olivia and Rowan, unabashedly truthful. Kerry has remarked a couple of times that her parents don’t understand why we say we love working together so much since most of our scenes are so stressful.
HM: The Gladiators are such a big part of SCANDAL. How great is it to have such a fierce and loyal following?
JM: I believe SCANDAL started something when they introduced social media into the mix. For us on the show, who are all theatre actors, it’s the closest we get to live theatre and real-time responses. It’s an absolutely great way to interact with our Gladiators. On the other side of things, it’s kind of wonderfully old fashioned TV to have a name for your audience. Being Gladiators allows viewers to feel less like fans and more like they’re part of a club.
HM: What do you think accounts for SCANDAL’s staying power?
JM: These days, our audience is waiting to see what we have to say about what’s going on in the real world of American politics. Despite not deliberately writing a ShondaLand parallel view of the real world, SCANDAL will certainly hit certain comparable beats because our writers are smart and sculpting circumstances that are human as well as political, circumstances the audience will recognize.
Before now, I think the combination of scandalous politics, plus a very juicy, erotic, x-rated, three way love affair has a lot to do with why SCANDAL is still around. Folks are still hoping for OLITZ. For the most part on SCANDAL, the women have the power and women are the majority of our audience. Many of those women have SCANDAL PARTIES; women gather at someone’s home around red wine, popcorn, and whatever else, to watch the show together. That’s the kind of loyalty and celebration that keeps our show alive.
‘SCANDAL AIRS ON ABC, THURSDAYS, 9/8C.
JOE ON TWITTER: @JOEtheMORTON
JOE ON INSTAGRAM: @joethemorton
PHOTOGRAPHY: BENJO ARWAS