Exclusive - Joe Morton Extended Interview

May 10, 2016 - Joe Morton 05/10/2016 Views: 4,174

Joe Morton discusses his portrayal of Dick Gregory in the play "Turn Me Loose" and weighs in on the presidential election as his "Scandal" character Rowan Pope. (7:48)

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My guest tonight playsRowan Pope on ABC's Scandal

and Dick Gregoryin the new off-Broadway show,

Turn Me Loose. Please welcome

Joe Morton!

-♪ -(cheering and applause)

I am such a fan.Thank you for being here.

-Thank you so much. Thank youso much -My pleasure to be here.

-for being here.-My pleasure.

Um, you said somethingthat was really interesting.

You said that, um,there's no logic to bigotry,

and I think that's generallytrue, no matter what kind

-of racism or bigotry you'retalking about. -It is. It's...

-There is no logic. No.-There is none. There is none.

You just go, "I-I hate a thing.

-I need no logic." -Forno reason. I remember when I was

a kid, some kids, uh--I think I was in high school--

they burnt a crossin front of someone's home.

And they put the kidson the news, and they said,

"Why did you do that?Do you-you hate black people?"

They said,"No, no, we don't hate them.

We just don't like 'em."


-Logic. None.-There is none. There is none.

-Thank you for being here, sir.-My pleasure.

You know, your-your characteron Scandal

almost works completelyin logic.

-No emotion at all. Papa Pope...-Well-well, th-there's emotion.

Papa Pope is one of the scariestpeople I have ever come...

No, but it's-it's rare to finda character like that,

where he's not scary'cause he's punching people.

-It's just the lookin your eyes. -Mmm.

Do you ever use that in life,just to get things done?

Like, are you at the DMV lookingdeep into someone's eyes,

g... just telling them stuff?

No, usually what happensif I got out and...

If it's the DMV,well, they'll-they'll say,

"Oh, gee, I-I thought I would beafraid of you, but I'm not."

-Is it the smile?-I don't... I think what happens

is people immediately understandthat what I do as Rowan

I don't do as Joe Morton,

that they really aretwo separate people.

So they know you're an actor?

-(laughter) -Fortunately, yes.Otherwise, I think

I'd have people outtrying to kill me.

Do you know...? Yeah.But do you know what's funny?

What happens backin South Africa

and some parts of Africa isactors get beaten up quite a bit

-for playing roles like yours.-Yes.

Well, that used to happen here.If you were on a soap opera,

-people would come up on thestreet. -Oh, so it did...?

Oh, yeah, and they'd spitin your face,

and they'd say terrible things.

I think with Rowan, there isthis love-hate relationship.

I think they love to hate him,

they love his relationshipto Olivia.

-Yeah.-Um, and then all of the other.

I think I got a, uh...a tweet the other day.

It said, "No offense mended..."

"No offense meant, but, um,Rowan is a piece of (bleep)."

-(laughter) -And I thinkwe wrote back and said,

"Yes, but Rowan isa well-spoken, intelligent

-and powerful piece of (bleep)."-(laughter)

-That makes the difference.-Makes all the difference.

-(applause and cheering)-It makes all the difference.

Um, now, for a lotof younger people,

Rowan Pope is the first exposurethat they've had to you,

but Joe Morton has hadan illustrious career,

and one of the main places youexpress that is on the stage.

You are currently Off Broadwayplaying Dick Gregory.

I mean, one of my idols,one of the most amazing men.

One of the greatest comediansthat has ever lived.

Is that a roleyou've always wanted to play?

Is that a personthat was always

someone who was significantin your life?

Well, I think he did, becauseI was aware of his comedy,

I was aware of his activism,and the bohemian diet

that he came up withseveral years into his career.

But I think what happened wasis that I was given the script,

and we sat down and read it.

When you start readingwhat this man did.

And essentially,here's a man who went

from making $17 a weekas a kid coming up in the world,

and then, ended up making$17 million a year,

and then decided he was goingto become part of the movement,

gave all of that upand became a 24-hour,

-you know, 7-24 activist.-Yeah.

And that's all he does. I mean,he still does his comedy,

he still does...but it's all for...

all the money goesto the movement,

because it'sstill part of his life.

It really is part of his life.It's also part of your life.

-Yes.-Which is... which is...

What I find really interesting

is that you're not playing this character solely,

but you'realso involved in this.

You're even makinga documentary.

I know that voter suppressionis something...

-Yes. -that isreally close to your heart.

Well, given the factthat we are in a, um...

cycle of voting,and that places like Alabama

will take 23 ballot boxesout of the DMV and move them,

and those 23 boxes happen to bein an all-black neighborhood,

I think is somethingwe need to pay attention to.

I think the fact that, um,the Voting Rights Act of '65

was eviscerated in 2013so that states in the South

can go back to kind of the oldthings that they used to do.

-Yeah. -I think they're probablygoing back to everything

except having to take a testfor, um, for...

-in order to vote.-The test and taxes.

Well, yeah, the test and taxes,

but the test was usuallythe funny part. You know.

I love that you can seethe humor in that.

Well, I mean, yes,in hindsight you can.

I mean, I think in the showwe talk about the fact

that he says, you know,if you're colored

and you're down Southand you want to vote,

they make you take a test--

in nuclear physics...in Russian.

And if you pass that test,they say, "Hey, boy,

"no, you can't vote,because if you can read Russian,

-you must be communist."-(laughter)

-(applause)-That's really what it is.

That is really what it is.

As someone who has beenthrough so many periods,

uh, not just in Americabut in American acting,

I've always been fascinated...fascinated to ask,

what is...what is your position on...

diversity in Hollywood?

I mean, you're on a showthat is...

-Enormously diverse, yes.-not just run by a black woman,

but then, you know, the star,the lead is a black woman,

and you are on the show--this is... this is a show

that is really at the forefrontof what's happening.

Do you feel personallythat there has been change....

enough change, or whatdo you think could be done

to make it a better environment?

Well, I mean, I think,as far as change goes,

my... usual statement is:"It's half steps to the wall."

Which means you get closerand closer and closer

but you never reach perfection.

Um, with-with, uh, Scandal,

Shonda, yes--and with all of her shows--

it's all about diversity,

it's all about tryingto present a world that...

that we recognizeout in the world.

Um, I think with movies it'sa very different kind of thing.

-Yeah. -I think moviesare still dealing with, uh,

a kind of star-like stable--

even though the stablesdon't exist anymore.

But that'show it kind of happens.

So, if you're doing a moviewith X number of... X star,

then you're gonna do all the...all the other casting parts

will be sort of aroundthat person.

-Around that character.-So, the problem there is that

for black and brown peoplein this country,

there's-there'sa ton of material

that we could talk aboutother than slavery,

other than integration,other than, um, um,

things that had to do with

-the civil rights movementof the '60s. -Yes, yes, yes.

There's lots of other storiesthat we can tell, and so,

for us, like Don Cheadle,for instance,

who is now doing a-a movieabout, uh, Miles Davis--

that's the kind of thingthat's sort of...

makes me really happy.

-Celebrating characters.-That's right, that's right.

Celebrating storiesthat go beyond just, uh,

-the plights and suffering.-Exactly. So, I think

what we're doingis we're moving from an era

where Raisin in the Sun was kindof the way things were done.

So, you would talk aboutblack life because supposedly

no one knew,it was this big secret.

And then you...we move to icons.

Now we're doing...People like Dick Gregory

and Jackie Robinsonand Ray Charles and Miles Davis.

People... Now-now charactersthat we all recognize.

But then it's thatkind of wonderful way

of then viewing that character,because that character

happens to be black, in a waythat exposes other things

about that culture,which I think is terrific.

If you were Papa Popein real life...


-If... -I'd have a bodyguardstanding right there, I think.

If Rowan Pope-- who controlspretty much everything

behind the scenesin Washington--

if he was seeing this electiontaking place right now...

how do you think he would react?

Um, I-I... To be honest,

I think that what he woulddo is he would do a lot

of investigating in termsof who Donald Trump actually is,

and then decide what needsto be done about that.

I watch the show enoughto know not to pry any further.

Turn Me Loose runs until Sunday, July 3

and the season finaleof Scandal will take place

Thursday, May 11 on ABC.Joe Morton, everybody.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

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