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Scandal's Joe Morton on Olivia's Plan: Rowan Thinks They're "Ill-Equipped"

What would Rowan do?

Joyce Eng

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about Thursday's episode of Scandal. Read at your own risk.]

Olivia (Kerry Washington) was on her A-game on Thursday's Scandal, engineering a drone strike on the White House to isolate Ruland (Zoe Perry) inside a bunker and prevent Mellie (Bellamy Young) from being forced to name Peus (David Warshofsky) as her new VP. Poor Jake (Scott Foley) -- so close to the most powerless powerful position in the country.

As everyone convenes to come up with a new VP for Mellie, Liv asks Rowan (Joe Morton), still under Fitz's top-secret custody, for help. Or really, Rowan forces Fitz to ask him for help, before gleefully saying no and proceeding to eviscerate Fitz for thinking with his other head. Needless to say, Rowan is still not on board with any of their plans -- or "suicide mission" -- to take down Peus just yet.

But that doesn't stop Olivia from moving forward. When Cyrus (Jeff Perry) rejects Mellie's offer to be VP -- after stupidly attempting to kill Rowan with a corkscrew -- Team Mellie comes up with an even better and unimpeachable option: Frankie Vargas' widow Luna Vargas (Tessie Santiago), for an all-female ticket.
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Feeling like a BAMF, Liv informs Ruland that she "took Mellie back" and is now her chief of staff, and Ruland is her prisoner. And then she delivers this Rowan-esque salvo: "Your mistake was thinking you could take what's mine. And should you make that mistake again, remember this: You can't take Olivia Pope; Olivia Pope takes you."

We caught up with Joe Morton to get his take on Olivia's actions, Rowan's next step and more.

First of all, is this Rowan's worst nightmare? Olivia not listening to him, going to back to Fitz, him being locked up, and now going against Peus' wishes again.
Joe Morton:
[Laughs] I think the fact that she's back with Fitz is certainly his worst nightmare. The thing about free will is you allow people to do what they want even if you hate it.

Would Rowan rather Fitz have locked him up elsewhere or killed him? It's more demeaning to him to be under Fitz's watch?
Morton: I think ideally Rowan would've just preferred that Fitz let him go. As he says, "I need to be in Paris or in Zanzibar, any place but here." I think of every option he would've preferred to be freed.

Rowan has made a point about not letting your weakness get the best of you. Fitz is Olivia's weakness, so what does he think of Olivia succumbing to her weakness again?
Morton: I think with Fitz it's more than that he's her weakness. For him, Fitz is weak. He's her weakness and he's weak. That makes it worse. Fitz is not as powerful as she is. By all rights, she should be secretary of state or president herself. So it's not about her being with her weakness as it is being with a weak individual who weakens her in that way, not in the way he talks about it for himself or in terms of loved ones. So it's frustrating for him.

How much pleasure did he get from making Fitz beg him for help and then saying no?
[Laughs] The lovely thing about doing scenes between Rowan and Fitz is the tension is so palpable. We just have a great time. As a matter of fact, after one of the scenes, it was either down in the bunker or in the White House, Tony and I said, "We should probably go out and have a drink together," because we spend so much time hating each other onscreen that it'd be nice to enjoy one another's company for a change.

Did you raid the secret White House cellar?
I wish we could have!

Joe Morton and Kerry Washington, Scandal

Joe Morton and Kerry Washington, Scandal


What does Rowan think of Olivia flip-flopping so much? She was with Mellie, then wanted to put the white hat on and back Cyrus, and now she's back to Mellie
Morton: I think again with Olivia, she's trying so hard to figure out what she wants, whether she wants to be like her father and she seems to becoming more and more like him in that she's adopting a lot of his language and persona, if you will, and yet on the other hand, she wants to do the right thing. But it's difficult to be Rowan and wear the white hat at the same time. I think that's what she's discovering.

Would Rowan be proud that she's taking after him in so many ways? She tells Ruland at the end, "you can't take Olivia Pope; Olivia Pope takes you," which, like you said, is similar language that he would use. Or is there still disappointment that she's not listening to him?
To use that language, I think that fills him with all kinds of pleasure. She understands where she is in terms of power. Whether or not he would enjoy the idea of her doing what he did, becoming part of B613, that's another question I don't think we'll know the answer to for the moment. What he wants for her is a kind of power that's "clean," which is more or less the White House as opposed to what he did, which is B613.

They all ask Rowan for help because they think he knows what the correct next move is. Do you think Rowan does or do you think Rowan is still at a loss?
I think he's thinking about it. The only thing he's made clear is he wants to be free, so for Rowan, I would imagine that could mean any number of different things. However he can achieve that freedom is what he'll figure out. It's like gambling. If you're playing poker, it's whether you have a strong hand or you're bluffing, but either way, you see a way to win that hand.

He clearly thinks it's too early for them to be doing anything to take down Peus. He calls it a suicide mission.
He thinks they're ill-equipped right now. He thinks that Fitz is not strong enough. Certainly Cyrus is weakened by being in prison. Marcus (Cornelius Smith Jr.) is too much of a neophyte, and Mellie and everybody else has been dragged through the mud enough that they're sort of drowning in it. He doesn't see an opportunity for victory among these people.

How is Rowan going to react to Vargas' widow being named VP?
We don't know very much about her, so I don't know that he has an opinion one way or another. The rationale behind it makes sense. She seems to understand her position. She is kind of our own administration here, someone who doesn't have any particular experience running a government. And from an optics perspective, I would imagine he understands, "Oh, two women in the White House would be a first." That seems like that might be a good thing. What it would mean in the long run, I'm sure he doesn't know.

Is Rowan still worried about what Peus would do to Olivia next or is there a "do whatever you want" mentality now?
Always. He's always worried about her vulnerability. Anything that he does is for her own particular benefit. It's always with Olivia in mind and making sure she's safe and protected.

Cyrus tried to kill Rowan. Would Rowan have killed Cyrus or did he just want to threaten him?
I guess it was a couple seasons where Rowan orders someone to be killed and one would expect that once it's done, he would feel good about it, and he makes it very clear that he doesn't necessarily like what he has to do all the time. He only does it when it's absolutely necessary.

He didn't like killing Vargas.
Yeah, and he did that to make sure Olivia was protected. So I think all he's letting Cyrus know is "you're way out of your league here if you think you can kill me."

What is Rowan's next move?
I think all he's thinking about at the moment is "how do I get out of this situation and regain my freedom and protect Olivia at the same time?" I don't think he has a plan in mind at the moment.

What do you think Rowan thinks of Peus' tactics? Rowan always operated from behind the scenes, whereas Peus and Ruland are very up-front about being the bad guys and threatening people and killing people in front of others to get them under their thumbs?
That's a very interesting question. I didn't think of this until I was watching the episode last night and thinking that somehow -- I imagine Steve Bannon is like what Theodore Peus is on our television show. [Laughs] So there's a certainly level of savagery that Rowan just completely hates. He just thinks this is not contained with any ideology, not contained with any political point of view; it's simply about grabbing power and I think he thinks that's disgusting. ... Rowan was always about protecting the Republic; it was never about grabbing power.

When will we find out Peus and Ruland's ultimate endgame?
I think you have to ask Shonda [Rhimes]! [Laughs]

Scandal airs Thursdays at 9/8c on ABC.