By Darlene Donloe
When Scandal returns to its regular Thursday night timeslot on January 26, after being absent from the 2016 fall lineup, Papa Pope (Joe Morton) and his Washington-insider daughter, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), will continue their epic familial battles.
The two have been at odds through several television seasons and it’s a bet the tough love will continue.
Ever since its debut, April 5, 2012, Scandal’s sizzling stories have kept its fans on the edge with tingling, scandalous storylines.
When Morton joined the shenanigans in season two, he kicked the storyline and the show up a notch. His popular Rowan Pope character is such a devilish, convincing antagonist that Morton won an Emmy for the role in 2014.
Morton has been entertaining audiences for decades on television, on stage and on the big screen.
I recently caught up with the former Tony nominee and Broadway alum at the Television Critics Association (TCA) at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena to discuss Papa Pope and the return of Scandal.
DD: The black community becomes very possessive of black celebrities on successful shows. Have you ever decided not to take on a role or say a certain line because you didn’t think the black community would approve?
JM: I don't think about the community so much. I do think about the role and what it means to me, what story I think I want to tell. In most cases it turns out to be something the black community enjoys. Yes, there have been roles that have come through the door and I’ve thought, “no, that’s not the story I want to tell.”
DD: Do you like Papa Pope?
JM: I love him.
DD: Why? Why is he so loveable?
JM: First of all you can’t approach a character and not like the character. It’s not possible. It’s like deciding to paint a picture and hating the picture you’re painting. For him, he’s considered a villain. He thinks and believes he’s helping the world. One of his top priorities is to protect the Republic. The other top priority is to protect his daughter. He tries to maintain both those things at all times. It’s about making sure the public is good and his daughter is good. And when those things come into conflict, he figures, ‘how can I have my cake and eat it too’.
DD: Fans were kind of frustrated waiting for Scandal to come back. As a cast member did you feel that same kind of frustration?
JM: I think on some level it is. But on another level it gives us time to do other things like be with our families. A hiatus is good. You come back to the show fresh and alive and lots more energy to do what you’re doing. So, on that level it was great to have time with my family and not be at work. I don’t live on this coast. I live on the East Coast. It was a lovely time for me.
(l-r) Joe Morton and Tony Goldwyn
DD: What are some things you’re working on besides Scandal?
JM: I did a play last summer called Turn Me Loose, about Dick Gregory. And we are, on a number of levels, moving forward trying to get to Broadway.
DD: Besides programs on ABC, what shows are you looking forward to watching this season?
JM: I don’t watch much TV. If I turn the TV on it’s usually news or a movie. Honestly. The only show I’ve seen recently, maybe two or three episodes is, This Is Us. I think it’s a wonderful show. What I saw was terrific.
(l-r) Kerry Washington and Joe Morton
DD: If Scandal was on cable and Papa Pope could just let loose, what would you like for him to say or do?
JM: That’s more of a Shonda (Rhimes) question because she’s the writer. I think Papa Pope has a very wide margin of what he can do. So, I don't think I could ask for anything more at the moment. I can’t even imagine what more he could possibly do. I think you’ll see as this season goes on – there is more and more and more and more.
The cast of Scandal includes Kerry Washington, Joe Morton, Josh Malina, Cornelius Smith, Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Jeff Perry, Portia De Rossi, Darby Stanchfield, Bellamy Young, Katie Lowes, Guillermo Diaz and Scott Foley.
Shonda Rhimes is the creator and executive producer; Betsy Beers is the executive producer.
Scandal returns to ABC, January 26 (Thursday nights) at 9 p.m./8 c.