Joe Morton shares how his classical acting background prepared him to play a pastor.
- Posted on Sep 25, 2018
Joe Morton has been acting on stage and screen since the 1970s, but is probably best known for his role as Rowan Pope on the hit ABC series Scandal, a role which earned him the nickname Papa Pope.
This fall Morton returns to television in God Friended Me, a show about Miles, an atheist who receives a friend request from someone named God. Miles enlists a journalist to help him find the culprit behind the account. Along the way “God” directs them to people and places where they can make a difference.
Morton plays Miles’ father, Reverend Arthur Finer. We caught up with Morton to talk about how his experience with Shakespeare and Scandal perfectly prepared him to play a reverend.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: For those who haven’t seen the show yet, can you share a little bit about God Friended Me and your role on the show?
Joe Morton: Sure. I play Reverend Finer who is an Episcopal minister. My son is an atheist…because when he was a young boy, around eight years old his mother had cancer. He prayed for a miracle and he got it! He got the miracle. She went into full remission, everything was fine. She walked out of the hospital and was killed in a car accident. He's now a young man, he has a podcast where he is talking about his atheism and he begins getting friend suggestions on his Facebook page from an account called "God." Of course he thinks this is somebody who's pulling his leg…so he decides that he's going to find out who is doing this. Reverend Finer is trying to figure out whether this thing is a joke. He struggles with the fact that he's a minister and his son is an atheist, and maybe his son is an atheist because when his wife died, he ran to the church and left his son behind.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: What drew you to this project?
JM: One, because it's diametrically opposed to what I was doing as Rowan in Scandal, and…I think a show that says that it's important for human beings to go out of their way to help one another, and that we are all connected is something that we need these days.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: Absolutely. So, how did you prepare to play a reverend trying to strengthen his relationship with his atheist son?
JM: Well, I just tried to think about someone who has his own church. I think that takes a great deal of fortitude, vision and continence to actually pull together a congregation in a very large curch. I think that in terms of my son being an atheist and [me being] a minister, like any other parent you have to start thinking "What did I do wrong? How did this happen? Is it my fault?"
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: Was your background performing Shakespeare and delivering scathing Papa Pope monologues helpful material to drawn on for playing a reverend?
JM: I think all those kinds of things are helpful. I think one of the reasons that I was able to do monologues on Scandal was because of my background doing classical theater. Doing that kind of work is clearly helpful for someone who has to stand up at the podium and preach a sermon because rhythms are involved. Getting the message across in a very long monologue is involved. All the things that I have been doing have led up to what I am doing at the present moment.
GUIDEPOSTS.ORG: Can you give us a little preview of what viewers can look forward to from the first season of God Friended Me?
JM: You will obviously get into who these people are. For Reverend Finer, he has to continue being father both to his church and to his children. And his background is that at one point he really wanted to be a jazz musician. [He’s] trying to reconcile that with the fact that a lot of that was connected to his marriage, to his wife. I think that you will see a lot of things that are a little bit unexpected from these characters. This show is really…about people helping other people and what our connection to one another is.
God Friended Me airs Sunday, September 30 at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.