Joe Morton is an accomplished stage and screen actor who most recently played the role of Eli Pope, father to Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope, in ABC's hit TV show Scandal. Currently, Joe portrays King Henry IV in The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles' Henry IV and, in the fall, you can watch him in CBS' new show God Friended Me.
How does Joe feel about Scandal coming to a close and will there be a Scandal film? What other projects can we expect from Joe in the future? What's his advice for aspiring actors? Find out the answers to these questions and more in today's interview:
Photo Credit: Benjo Arwas
Here are Joe's interview #TakeAways:
Jessica Lipps (JL,) Interviewer: With all of our guests, I like to start at the beginning. Where were you born?
Joe Morton (JM,) Guest: I was born in Harlem, NY.
JL: Did you grow up in New York?
JM: I’m an army brat so lived all over the world until age 10. Then I returned to New York.
-When I started working as an actor, I was back to traveling.
JL: How did experiences abroad impact your life?
JM: You learn to view the world in a different way because you’re seeing lots of different people and cultures.
-You become used to making new friends and change becomes easier. The experience was amazing and I’m glad to have had it!
JL: When you were a child, did you know that you wanted to be an actor?
JM: No. I wanted to be in the military like my Dad.
-I wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force. But when I took the physical, I learned that I needed corrective lenses, which prevented me from becoming a pilot.
-So I left that dream behind, entered Hofstra University and decided to become an actor.
JL: Then what happened?
JM: After leaving school, I started working in New York.
-At the end of my first year working as an actor, I landed my first Broadway show, Hair.
JL: Then you went on to perform in many more successful productions. Since Scandal is your most recent show, let’s fast forward and talk about that. Do you miss it? How are you feeling?
JM: I’m feeling pretty good.
-The cast stays in touch. We have a group text that we use to find out who is doing what and where, so that’s been nice.
-Yes, I miss the show but now I’m doing Henry IV in Los Angeles and that’s captured my attention.
JL: Tell us about that!
JM: We started rehearsal in May and rehearsed for six weeks.
JL: That’s a short time to learn all of those Shakespearean lines! What’s your process for learning lines?
JM: I ask five questions for almost every line (and sometimes for every word) in any show that I do (whether for TV, film, theater or other.) They are:
-Who am I ?
-Where am I going?
-Who do I expect to meet?
-What do I want?
-To what extent am I willing to go to get what I want?
-I continue asking those questions during rehearsal and at other times, because the more you practice the lines out loud, you discover more things that may have been somewhat hidden in the dialogue.
JL: What are you enjoying most about Henry IV?
JM: This cast is amazing! I play King Henry IV, Tom Hanks plays Falstaff, Hamish Linklater plays Prince Hal and Rondi Reed plays Mistress Quickly. This incredible cast brings great clarity and creativity to the play.
-This company has become a real family. For example, after one of our castmates had his car smashed, we started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money so that he could buy a new second hand car. That’s how close we have become in 8 weeks.
JL: Henry IV runs until July 2nd. A few months later, we can see you in a new show on CBS!
JM: Yes! God Friended Me tells the story of a young man who is an atheist. I play his father, a reverend at an Episcopal Church.
-My son makes steps towards thinking that maybe there is a God. But then something happens and he doubts God’s existence.
-The series’ overarching theme is forgiveness and finding ways to bring people together.
JL: How do you transition from seven seasons of Scandal to taking on a new series that could very well last as long. Don’t you need a break?
JM: Actors change all the time. We go from one play, TV show or movie to the next.
-It’s very much like changing your costume or putting on different makeup to inhabit a new character. It is part of what we do in our careers.
-Also, when one show closes, most actors hope that something else opens up fairly quickly!
JL: In addition to Henry IV and God Friended Me, is there anything else that you’re currently working on?
JM: Yes! I’m developing a piece with some friends called Inside the Black Box, which will be like Inside The Actor’s Studio but we’ll be looking at what it means to be a creative - an actor, writer, director, producer and beyond - from a black point of view.
-We’ll be doing things like taking a script that’s been cast with two white actors and giving it to two black actors to read just to see how it changes the dynamic.
-If we had already been on the air, we would have talked about Roseanne’s tweets.
-The idea is to discuss being creative from a black perspective.
JL: You’ve had such success! It’s easy to look at you and think that you’ve had it easy. But I imagine that you’ve encountered challenges along the way.
JM: When I first started in this business, it was the late '60s.
-I went to audition for a famous director. A friend auditioned ahead of me and the director said to him: "Can’t you just be black for me?" What he meant was: change the tone of your voice to give it regionalism - as if that’s the only way that black people speak.
-When I learned about that, I berated the director for what he said and decided that I wouldn’t audition for that character or director.
-There was a great deal of racism as I was coming up through the ranks and my best weapon was to confront it directly.
-I also would not accept roles like pimps, drug dealers, gangsters or other characters that were negative. In those days, these were the only roles available for black actors, which is why I went back to theater and was glad when movies like Terminator 2 or The Brother from Another Planet came along.
JL: Where did you find that inner strength to stand up for yourself and what you believe in?
JM: When my father was in the army, his job was to integrate the armed forces overseas.
-He, my mother and I arrived at assigned posts racially unannounced. Most of the time, our family was given a lot of grief. Through those experiences, I learned to stand and speak up for what’s right.
JL: What advice do you have for aspiring creatives?
JM: Make sure that you get a good education and study a wide-range of topics.
-Learn how to be an actor. You may have natural talent but there is a process and way of approaching a role that is not only creative but almost scientific.
-After my son graduated from college, I told him that he shouldn’t go on screen right away. He should spend at least the first couple of years doing theater because if you can play a part eight times a week for a few months and keep that role fresh, alive and attractive, then you’re able to do anything.
JL: Great advice! In closing, will we ever see Scandal again?
JM: I don’t think so.
-I know that there has been talk about Scandal the movie, but I think that i’s just something that the cast is talking about.
-I don’t think that it’s anything that Shonda is involved with. But you never know...
Find & Follow:
Facebook: @JOEtheMORTON, @JessicaALipps
Instagram: @joethemorton, @Jessica_Lipps
Twitter: @JoeTheMorton, @JessicaALipps