BWW Interview: Joe Morton Talks SCANDAL's Papa Pope, Bringing TURN ME LOOSE to Broadway
There are very few characters on television as terrifying as SCANDAL's Eli Pope. The former (or is he?) head of the classified, covert government organization B613 has been the series' most dangerous and destructive force since Season 2, and with tonight's highly anticipated Season 6 premiere just hours away, Papa Pope's portrayer Tony-nominee and Emmy-winner Joe Morton is happy that the show is finally back.
"It has been a long time, hasn't it?" Morton said yesterday. "We get excited about coming back to work, number one. Number two, this (episode) was shot before we went on hiatus, so it's kind of like... if you're in university or college, and you come back after the holidays. It's great to see your friends, it's great to get back to work again. So the whole thing is very exciting, it's very celebratory."
The sixth season of the highly addictive ABC drama was pushed back because of the pregnancy of the show's star Kerry Washington. The cast shot a handful of episodes in summer 2016 before taking a mid-season hiatus, then returned to work after Washington gave birth to her second child in October. The season premiere airs tonight at 9/8c on ABC.
Washington plays political fixer Olivia Pope, whose relationship with her morally dubious father Eli often leads to the show's most explosive moments.
"We were talking about that the other day," he said of his TV daughter. "Her parents don't understand why we enjoy those scenes so much. We sort of pummel each other all the time, and that is the joy. Those characters get to express a lot of really full and complicated emotions.
"What usually happens with Kerry and I is we never really talk about the scenes, and we just come to work. We just begin to literally go at each other in terms of what's going on in the script, and then, obviously having brought in some choices on either side, discover what happens between the two of us."
The volatile chemistry between the two was first seen in the final moments of the Season 2 Finale, "White Hat's Back On." Eli had been pulling the strings behind the scenes to influence the president, who was in a long-term affair with Olivia. Eli, also known as Rowan, or simply "Command," views his actions as being for the greater good of the republic, but the means are often brutal, bloody, and possibly treasonous.
As the season raced to a conclusion, the world learned of Olivia and the president's relationship, and she was swarmed by reporters only to be rescued by a waiting town-car. In the back seat, the country's collective jaw hit the floor when she greeted the show's new "big bad" with a confused single word, "Dad?"
"When I joined the show, at the end of the second season, I was the only one that knew that that scene was going to happen," Morton said. "That was part of the pitch when they offered me the job. But Kerry didn't know, most of the directors didn't know. Of the cast members, I was the only one who knew that, in fact, that scene was going to happen as it did."
That moment, which aired on May 16, 2013, in large part changed the way that people watched television. With the rapid expansion of social media, SCANDAL's twists and turns became appointment programming, if for no other reason than that people wanted to be shocked without first being spoiled online.
So, having the upper hand on his castmates (as Rowan often does), Morton was able to witness a reaction at the cast's table read that was very similar to what occurred in front of millions of TVs across the country.
"Their reaction was just like the rest of America," he said. "I mean, people leapt up from the table, yelled, and screamed, and carried on. It was exactly the way the rest of the world responded."
Morton, who one an Emmy for the role the following year, said that since the scene was such a shock to most of the people involved in the show, he and Washington didn't have much information to work off of, so they ended up having to play the scene in as many ways as possible for future editing.
"When I shot that scene," he said, "we had no idea what our relationship was, so we had to shoot that several different ways. We didn't know whether we were friendly, whether we hated each other, what were the terms in which we split, or are we still together, and I've just been in hiding? We had no idea. So, we just had to take a whole bunch of options, and shoot the scene, and hand it back to Shonda (Rhimes) and the rest of them to put it together."