Morgan Freeman - From Hur to eternity
By Samantha Reyes/The Interview People
An Oscar winner for Million Dollar Baby, in 2005 Morgan Freeman was famously nicknamed ‘The voice of God’. He has played God in Bruce Almighty and appeared as deus ex machina in many other movies. His beautiful and soothing baritone voice with a sublime vibrato is very much in demand for documentaries and series such as Through the Wormhole. Now Freeman, 79, anchors and narrates nothing less than The Story of God, a new National Geographic six-episode series. It’s a sort of a spiritual travelogue exploring the human relation with the divine throughout the world.
“I don’t consider myself a religious person, I don’t go to church,” says Freeman. “And yet I embrace the concept of divine and I think I’m a spiritual person. I meditate every single day. But please,” he implores with that sardonic smile, “enough with this ‘Voice of God’ thing: I don’t want it to go to my head.”
Tall (6ft 2in), strong, casually bearded, with intensely magnetic green-grey eyes, Freeman smiles a lot, as though he’s making fun of everything. And yet he is extremely serious and disciplined with his work. He’s also executive producer of the drama comedy series Madam Secretary starring Téa Leoni, and as an actor he has a new batch of films coming up (including the remake of the epic Ben-Hur, and the sequel of Now You See Me). With histrionic nonchalance he shows us his brand new dentures, and his semi-paralysed left hand, held in an orthopaedic glove, the result of the car accident he suffered in 2008. Freeman is the living challenge to the old adage that Hollywood disposes too easily and too early of its elders. Age is good for him: he hasn’t stopped working a minute. Nearing 80, he’s very much in vogue, even among young people.
After this long journey into religions, did you find God?
I think God is difficult to find. But I found the divine that is in all of us. But see, I’m very curious about life, and one of the biggest questions about life is death, and what comes after that. And all of that is included in our ideas of God and religion.
Did you try to find an answer to those questions?
… For many God is the answer: for me, God is the question. In this respect, science and religion get along with each other, they coexist, Big Bang and creationism, theory of evolution and dogma.
You travelled from Texas to India, from Jerusalem to Rome to Turkey for The Story of God: what were the most memorable moments?
I vividly remember Bodh Gaya, India, and the Bodhi Tree. The Zen master was seated in the middle of his class. He saw me; he had no idea who I was – I was there incognito – and he came close and he told me: “I like you.” He saw something special in me, maybe my smile. The other special moment was in New Mexico, among the native Navajos, during a ceremony, a sort of a tribal Bat Mitzvah: a 13-year-old girl must spend a day and a night running and climbing, and harvesting and cooking to get in touch with the ‘first woman’. A search for the divine… very strong and moving.
Did you search for the divine in yourself?
My search started and ended when I was 13. I was part of a club called IAH, I Am His. I read the Bible, I learned that God is everywhere, even inside me. I used to go to the Baptist church on Sunday, as [do] all the blacks in Mississippi, where I come from. Baptist masses are fun: the choirs, the music, the screaming pastors and their sermons, people passing out. A colourful mess: that’s how my passion for performance, acting and melodramas began.
How did you become what you are? What lessons did you learn?
I don’t know about lessons, but I had a lot of positive input growing up. One, I was a good kid, and number two, I was a smart kid, and if you are a good kid and a smart kid and you are in school, you are going to run into one or two teachers who are going to hold you in the palm of their hands. And that was me. I can name three or four teachers.
What can you tell us about Ben-Hur?
I play Ildarin, a sort of rich gambler in Imperial Rome: he’s a breeder of thoroughbred horses, and teaches Ben-Hur how to ride chariots. It’s a very accurate and faithful adaptation of the 1959 William Wyler classic, plus a lot of digital effects.
What do you do in your spare time?
I used to spend a lot of time sailing on the Caribbean on my beloved boat. Today, be it my age or my handicapped hand, I don’t sail anymore, and spend time on my Mississippi farm. But I have to tell you, guys: I’m always on the move. Not much downtime.
About Madam Secretary: what are your biggest concerns when it comes to world politics, and the involvement of an American secretary of state towards world politics?
Well, because we are creating our own world, I don’t have any negative concerns about the direction the show might go in. All my negative concerns are with the real world. [laughs]
That’s what I meant, the resonance in the real world.
Well, we’re literally on the brink of serious confrontations. With the stuff going on between Egypt and Iran, and North and South Korea and China, another … potential hot spot … and we have got [huge amounts of] material … that we can use, my personal concerns are, are we really going to be watching a World War Three develop? Could be.
Who was your best teacher?
I learned a lot from Stacy Keach and Viveca Lindfors, with whom I did my very first Off-Broadway shows when I was in my 20s. I had not worked before with actors [of] that calibre. The thing I learned about acting was it was a giving process. You give, you take. It’s like karma in [the] Buddhist religion. And nobody teaches you how to act except other actors.
Is there any role you haven’t played that you would like to act?
If I wasn’t too old I’d say Bass Reeves, a deputy US marshal in the 1870s in Oklahoma, the only time America exercised meritocracy. Then I’d like to either producer or [be a] grandfather, though I’m afraid the moment I stop moving I’ll die.