Joe Morton on His Long Career and Playing Papa Pope

Scandal's Emmy-winning monologue king Joe Morton talks hustle, Hollywood and why he's singing the blues. 

Scandal's Emmy-winning monologue king Joe Morton talks hustle, Hollywood and why he's singing the blues. 

Q: Papa Pope is a lot to handle. Can you help us better understand him?

A: From my point of view, he’s a good guy. He is highly educated, perceptive and capable of doing what he thinks is necessary. He’s a philosopher and probably an amazing chess player.

Q: How did you get your start as an actor and stay working this long?

A: I left college because I was constantly told I couldn’t get certain roles because I was Black. If I had to be treated like that, I would rather get paid for it. My professor connected me with a Broadway agent. I soon was cast in my first show and continued to perform in plays on and off Broadway, including A Raisin in the Sun, before moving to Los Angeles. The only time I wasn’t acting was during the writers’ strike in 2008.

Q: When you are not working, what do you do for a good time?

A: Music. If I’m going to be away from home for more than two weeks, I usually carry my guitar. I do a lot of blues, including Muddy Waters.

Q: What’s the best gift you have ever received from your lady?

A: I’ve been with my girlfriend for more than ten years. For my fifty ninth birthday, she put together a party at Joe’s Pub in New York City and invited most of the musicians I’ve played with throughout my life. It was amazing.

Q: After 50 years as an actor, what has been the highlight of your career?

A: The Brother From Another Planet, Scandal and Blues Brothers 2000 are still my favorite projects. To hang with Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, B.B. King and so many others was incredible. The first song I sang was with James Brown.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of ESSENCE magazine, on newsstands now.

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