Season three of Scandal belonged to Joe Morton. And all of Papa Pope’s yelling, spying, and devious deeds were rewarded this weekend when he took home his first Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor. We talked to him about tough parenting, playing flawed characters, and the weird way he plans to get his Emmy back to New York.
Congratulations on your Emmy win! You’ve been working in television for a while; I know that you were prepared for Robert Morse to win, but how are you reacting to all this?
My first reaction was a deep sigh of relief mixed with a bit of surprise. Everybody wants to win, but you can come up with a million reasons why you won’t. Robert Morse is a legend, and he submitted a musical number, which is what he’s legendary for, and Mad Men is going off the air, and he’s been nominated several times, so there were plenty of reasons I thought it would go to him.
To be fair, your work on Scandal is fantastic. Both of the Emmys Scandal has won have come from the supporting cast, which says a lot about the caliber of the actors on this show.
They’re all amazing; everyone on the show is a theater actor, so we all basically speak the same language, which is primarily to serve the script. Because that’s our priority, and we’re fortunate enough to have amazing writers; there’s no ego involved.
Some of the more powerful scenes last season rested on your shoulders; one of the more memorable ones involved you and Fitz in that interrogation box. You’re great at crafting that tension. But I’m still not sure if you’re a good guy, or if that matters.
He’s not a cardboard character, and what’s great about that is that it makes him absolutely human. You can see what’s good about him, what’s not good about him, where his loyalties lie, and why he does what he does to protect himself, protect his daughter, and protect the republic. Wrapped in all of that is a human being who is not very simple — he’s very complex. And it’s wonderful to hear people talk about him like that, because he’s not a cut-in-the cloth villain.
You’re a dad; as Rowan Pope, you say things that a lot of us black kids hear growing up, like, “You have to work twice as hard to get half as much.” How much of your real-life dadness comes through with your parenting of Olivia Pope?
When you raise children it’s not all peaches and cream, so there were some things I could hold on to, and I was able to bring a lot of that to my relationship with Olivia. Olivia has two parents, who she witnessed sitting at the kitchen table with knives in their hands; for most of us that’s a metaphor, but for her that’s reality. Their both flawed characters; Olivia always wants to wear the white hat but she hasn’t always done very nice things, and the same thing is true of Rowan; for all of his being dark and secretive, he’s also said things that were really kind of wonderful.
You’re great on Twitter, and genuinely excited to interact with your fans, which is refreshing.
Thank you! It was a Gladiator thing. I was told the cast tweets live during the broadcast, and I thought, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” I thought that if they brought me back for season three, I’d start tweeting. I think that it’s the closest that a television actor can get to doing theater — you can actually get a live response from an audience during a performance while the audience is watching. And it’s great! Not only can we get that, but we can interact with them. It’s lovely.
You looked fantastic at the Emmys; were you wearing velvet? Are you made of velvet? You were very smooth.
Nope, that was Calvin Klein.
Everyone asks where people put their Emmys. Do you have a spot picked out?
I don’t live on the West Coast, so when I come out to work I rent a house. Right now, it’s sitting in the middle of the dining-room table. Once I get back home, I’ll find a place for it.
How do you transport an Emmy? We can’t even bring full-sized shampoo on a plane.
They give you a box! It’s lined with silk and the statue fits in there perfectly. Either that, or you get a large gold chain and wear it around your neck.