Exclusive: Halo star Joseph Morgan talks Ackerson and the shocking season 2 finale

We spoke with Joseph Morgan about filming scenes with the iconic Halo villain the Flood, Ackerson's motives, his biggest surprises on set, hopes for season 3, and more.
Joseph Morgan as James Ackerson in Halo episode 8, Season 2, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+
Joseph Morgan as James Ackerson in Halo episode 8, Season 2, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+ /

Halo season 2 reached its conclusion last week with a climactic clash outside the titular ring world which humanity and the alien Covenant are vying to capture. Simply titled "Halo," the finale was a major turning point for all of the show's characters as well as the galaxy at large. When the dust settled, the Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and his AI companion Cortana (Jen Taylor/Christina Bennington) set out into the depths of the Halo while a terrifying contagion known as the Flood is finally unleashed from its ancient prison.

Few characters had as big of a turnaround in Halo season 2 as James Ackerson (Joseph Morgan), the new head of the Spartan program following Dr. Halsey's (Natasha McElhone) betrayal in season 1. Ackerson begins as an antagonistic foil to the Master Chief, convincing others that the legendary soldier's mental state is deteriorating just ahead of a terrible battle which claims the core human world of Reach. By the end of the season, Ackerson owns up to his past mistakes upon realizing that his superiors at ONI are planning to sacrifice all the new Spartans he'd trained in a suicide mission. He ends season 2 helping the Chief and his allies stay alive so that the lot of them can fight another day.

We had the chance to speak with Joseph Morgan about his time playing the character, his most memorable experiences on set, working with the Flood, his history with the Halo video games, and what he'd like to see in Ackerson's future if Halo is renewed for a third season. Be warned: there are SPOILERS for season 2 ahead.

Joseph Morgan as James Ackerson in Halo episode 7, Season 2, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+ /

DANIEL ROMAN for Winter Is Coming: Hi Joseph, thanks so much for taking the time to talk Halo today! Looking back on your time working on Halo season 2, what was one of your most memorable moments on set?

JOSEPH MORGAN: You know, I really loved Episode 3, the scene between Ackerson and his father. James Ackerson senior is played by Bill Patterson, who's a really wonderful Scottish actor I've been aware of for some years. And so I was very much looking forward to working with him and it was my last scene that I shot before the Christmas break and it was just everything I wanted it to be. He was just so terrific and the scene itself, I felt like, showed this vulnerable side of Ackerson, who's caring for his father. You know, his father is suffering from dimentia. So it was [an] incredibly heartwrenching scene to read.

I was really looking forward to playing it, and it was wonderful, just a wonderful experience. Bill was so great. He told me old theater stories in our breaks, when we had a cup of tea together. It was just one of those kind of career highlights. I absolutely loved it.

WiC: Obviously, Ackerson had a pretty big arc this season from being more of an antagonist at the start, to having this redemption in the last few episodes. What was your reaction to seeing that you'd have to portray that kind of range for him as a character?

JM: I mean, that was what drew me to the part. I love the nuance, and having a satisfying arc as well is really an exciting thing for me. I just saw it as a tremendous opportunity, and I had every faith in [showrunner David Wiener's] writing. He writes terrific dialogue and his story is always layered, so I knew there'd be an opportunity there. But it was wonderful to see it pan out the way it did. Absolutely thrilled with it.

WiC: Is there anything that you learned from playing Ackerson in season 2 that you're hoping to bring to season 3 if Halo gets renewed?

JM: Yeah, I think, having seen it all now...the stuff that I liked the most, that I felt was most true to Ackerson, was the sort of most simple moments, where he was at his most honest. Like the scene with his dad. But also later on, as he starts to realize that he's been played as well, and that he has potentially been betrayed by the ONI. I think what I'd like to bring to season 3 is some more of that honesty. I think there was a nice facade that Ackerson brought with his confidence and attempt at charisma when he came on into that world, and he used it to control people. But I'd like to see him stripped down now; stripped down of that just as he's been stripped of his power and position. I want to see a more honest Ackerson, a more raw Ackerson, and a sort of more regretful Ackerson.

L-R Joseph Morgan as James Ackerson, Tylan Bailey as Kessler and Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Laera in Halo episode 8, Season 2, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+ /

WiC: In the finale, you had some scenes with people who were infected with the Flood, which is pretty terrifying. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like filming those scenes on set?

JM: Yeah, sure. So, that sequence Ackerson was in the prison, which we actually shot in a zoo in Budapest which had been built but never occupied by any animal. So it was a sort of half-finished build, or almost finished build. It was a massive concrete and metal building, very cold and dark, which really lent itself to those scenes. And then they hired a bunch of background artists who were very committed to the job of portraying these people infected by the Flood. [Laughs] So it was really great, it was easy to believe you're in that situation and to portray that.

And I was very excited. You know, having been a fan of the games and Halo 2, I was really excited that we were introducing the Flood into this world and that I was going to be a part of that.

WiC: Oh, that's so cool! I was going to ask: so you've played the games then?

JM: Oh yeah, man. I grew up with the games. Like, as a teenager I remember when Combat Evolved came out, and Halo 2 with the Flood, and like Halo 3 and Halo 4. And then I didn't play them for years, and when I got the role of Ackerson, I went back. I played Halo: Reach, the campaign, just to put myself back in that world.

WiC: So did you know you were auditioning for Halo when the opportunity for the series came up, or is that something you found out later?

JM: This was an offer that came in for me, partly because I worked with the showrunner previously on Brave New World. So, I was filming a show in Toronto, a DC show Titans. And David Wiener, the new showrunner for season 2 of Halo contacted me and said, "Look, there's a role in my new show that I think you would be right for, and I've kind of been writing it with you in mind. I'd love to chat about it and see if you're even available and maybe send you some scripts and see what you think." And then I saw he'd signed the email: David Wiener, showrunner Halo season 2. [Makes an excited voice.] His new show is Halo!

So that was really wonderful. So it was more he and I talking about it and then seeing if we could make it work, because...I actually had three days in between in between where I finished filming Titans and I started Halo, so it was a tight schedule to make work. But yeah, I was aware, and I got sent the script and had to pretend that there was going to be some form of negotiation before I said, yes. [Laughs] I knew I was doing this show by hook or by crook.

L-R Shabana Azmi as Admiral Margaret Parangosky and Joseph Morgan as James Ackerson in Halo episode 6, Season 2, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: David Lukács/Paramount+ /

WiC: Knowing that this was a character written with you in mind and that you were well-suited to playing it, were there any scenes that you found particularly challenging or that surprised you?

JM: Towards the end of Ackerson's journey, there's a scene where has the computer analyze Parangosky's spike and he finds out what it's really for: to turn the Covenant ship into a bomb that will annihilate the Covenant fleet, but all of our soldiers as well, so no one will get the Halo. He realizes that he's been betrayed in a sense, or he's certainly been misled, and his Spartan Threes will die, and that the spike doesn't do what Parangosky said and he's been manipulated. He was a manipulator, but he's been manipulated.

And in that moment he makes a decision and he marches towards the exit of the room like he's going to go do something. But he's intercepted by John, [the Master Chief], who wants his armor and wants revenge and then he's pinned to the wall and then John ends up forcing Ackerson to get his armor back. And then John says, "Look, you're gonna have to pay for the consequences. Someone always pays, and this time it's you...you're gonna have to bring Parangosky down."

L-R Joseph Morgan as James Ackerson and Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo episode 7, Season 2, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+ /

I struggled with figuring out the nuance there. David and I spent real time working out, well, what was Ackerson going to do before he was intercepted there? And then, after he agrees to take the fall, when he goes back to see Parangosky, what is his motive there? Because he's just...John shows up and he's just kind of waiting for when to reveal to Parangosky that it's John, and he's just sort of trying to basically prevent her from finding out what John's about to do until it's too late and she can't stop him already. So there was a real

So there was a real kind of crunch there, and I got real specific about like, what are we doing here and what is Ackerson feeling in this moment? But it was vital to me because I felt like this is Ackerson's turning point. This is the point when he realizes the ONI doesn't have his back, you know, and that's everything he believed in. So I was insistent that we were so specific about that, and it took a bit of thrashing out on set and behind the scenes to really figure out those moments. So that was the biggest challenge for me.

WiC: Well, it seems like it paid off because thinking back on Ackerson in this season, that is a sequence of scenes that really stands out. So it sounds like the time was worth it.

JM: Thank you. And that's important to me, because that was a big thing when we were filming. I never want to feel like the character is just floating. I want him to know what his motive is and what he's doing in every moment. And so that piece of the puzzle, it was vital to me that we got that right.

WiC: Joseph, thank you again so much for stopping by, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Best of luck with season 3 and beyond.

JM: I appreciate that, man. I'm just waiting for the call. [Laughs]

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo episode 8, Season 2, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+ /

Another huge thank you to Joseph Morgan for swinging by the site to discuss the latest season of Halo! You can see him in Halo season 2, streaming now on Paramount+.

As of this writing, Halo has not yet been renewed for a third season. We'll have our ear to the ground for updates!

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