Actor Joe Morton: Not Your Average Joe


Joe Morton is an actor’s actor.

He is a veteran of the stage and screen who broke through with his silent leading role in the iconic 1984 independent film Brother From Another Planet. The movie was about an escaped alien on the run from his home planet. After he lands in New York City, he tries to adapt to life on the streets of Harlem. Most recently, Morton has been playing Eli Pope, also known as Rowan, Olivia Pope’s father, on Scandal since season three, when he burst into his daughter’s life. He even won himself an Emmy in the process.

Just like his real-life start into acting, it was more like a well-thought out, but impulsive decision.

“I was in college,” remembers Morton. “It was actually my very first day of orientation, and I had actually entered college as a psychology major and they took us around the campus to show us what our first year would be like in school — it was Hofstra University. And at the end of this tour … they plopped us down in the theater. And I had been playing music and playing guitar and singing for a while and really enjoying that. And they put on a skit about what our first year would be like, and after the skit was over, everybody left the theater and I literally could not get up out of my seat. I just sat there staring at the stage thinking, ‘I’ve always enjoyed singing. Maybe I could be an actor.’ And got up out of my seat, walked to the registrar’s office and changed all my majors from psychology to drama.”

Can you imagine Joe Morton as your psychologist? I’m shaking in my boots just thinking about it.

Morton first appeared as Papa Pope at the end of season 2 of Shonda Rhimes‘ White House drama. But even in season 6, the actor says he only knows as much as the fans do about his character.

“The only two things we have to go on are what is in front of us on the script,” he tells Vulture.com. “I have a lot of history to pull from and things I can ascertain from his relationships, but I can only base that off what we’ve seen him do up to this point.”

Morton knows his character is seen as a villain, but he points out that Rowan’s relationship with his daughter has always been what humanizes him.

“My father was in the service. His job was to integrate the armed forces overseas. So that meant we showed up at military bases in Okinawa or Germany, racially unannounced. That made me, in that particular society if you will, the outsider.”

“I identify with the love for his daughter,” Morton continues. “I have two daughters and a son. And this is an…