When Scandal aired its Season 2 cliffhanger of a finale, Olivia (Kerry Washington) found herself tossed into a car with a mysterious and malicious CIA operative named Rowan (Joe Morton). She looked at him surprised, and said, “Dad?”
That one word sent shockwaves through the Scandal –verse, with fans taking to Twitter to gasp at the twist. Could the man that was supposedly plotting Washington fixer Olivia’s death really be her own father?
While the revelation was a shock to fans, Morton had known about the curveball for months. “I knew [Rowan] was going to be the head of this mysterious black ops division, B613, but not much more,” Morton explained in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I asked, ‘Where is this going?’ They said, ‘You’re going to be Olivia Pope’s father, but you can’t tell anyone.’ So for weeks, while I was working on the show, I was the only one who knew.”
“Keeping the surprise was good for me, in terms of the character,” said Morton. “Rowan is all about keeping secrets and being in the dark. Having that secret to hold on to actually helped me understand him better.” The knowledge did lead to some tricky situations on set for the 66-year-old Tony-nominated theater actor, though. “Scott [Foley] asked if I was excited to go back to Broadway and I said, I was but something a little more interesting came up and we just left it at that,” Morton said about life on set before the big reveal. “Kerry [Washington] would always walk in and say ‘I hope we have scenes together!’ and I would just smile.”
The show returned for its third season with the relationship between Rowan and Olivia at center stage. As the Scandal saga spirals around the Pope family, the covert Rowan has grown into a pivotal figure, a dark foil to Olivia’s white-hat crew. He is a complicated character, who may hold the fate of the country, if not the world in his hands, but seemingly only wants set dinner dates with his daughter.
“There are two sides of Rowan. There’s the man who, for all intents and purposes is the most powerful man in the country, behind the scenes,” Morton said. “Then there’s the relationship with his daughter, which we’re just starting to understand.”
Complicating their relationship even further, before the hiatus, Rowan had been taken into custody on the orders of Olivia’s lover, President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). As Rowan sat in chains in a cell, President Grant berated him. But Rowan refused to be cowed, delivering a powerful speech that addressed class, race and privilege, topics rarely covered in primetime.
“It was an incredible speech. Basically I was in chains, in a t-shirt, in a steel chair in a barred room, telling a Southern president that he was a ‘boy.’ It doesn’t get much more intense than that,” Morton said. “I hope Shonda [Rimes, the show’s creator] continues to use this character as a venue or an avenue to say things that the other characters on the show can’t say.”
Rimes would be hard pressed to find a better vessel for delivering her powerful words. Morton has over 40 years experience in theater, television and film including Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Eureka and director John Sayles’ revered art-house classic The Brother From Another Planet.
As the show returns for the second half of the third season, Olivia‘s terrorist mom (Khandi Alexander) is on the loose in D.C. and while some fans may dream of the duo teaming up to track her down, Morton doesn’t believe there are many father-daughter dances in Olivia’s and Rowan’s future.
“There will always be some kind of gap between Olivia and Rowan,” Morton said. “Rowan just wasn’t there when she was growing up and he’s not the nicest guy in the world. He has to decide who lives and who dies, where as Olivia is always trying to be the good guy wearing the white hat. We’ll never be The Brady Bunch. That wouldn’t be a Shonda Rimes show.”
As for specifics about what fans can expect during the next run of episodes, Morton is as in the dark as the rest of us. “After all the humiliation Rowan faced, I would suspect that there would be some kind of retribution,” guessed Morton. “I really don’t know!” he laughed. “It’s like trying to read the mind of a genius. I have no idea what Shonda is thinking, because she just sees the world so differently. Her explanation of how things work is she let’s the snowball roll down the hill and sees what happens.”
“When you play a character as seemingly evil as Rowan, you always have to wonder if they are going to let this character survive, or if they’re going to kill him.” Morton said. “We all have to wait and see what happens and where that snowball ends up.”