Word from the Wise

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Word from the Wise

From Batman to Belle Isle: Morgan Freeman may have just turned 75 but he isn’t slowing down in his quest for new worlds — and roles — to conquer

By Cindy Pearlman

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Published: Fri 20 Jul 2012, 8:20 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:03 PM

is something of a speciality for Morgan Freeman. He’s 75, and these days most of his movie roles cast him as a sage older man dispensing the insights of a long life.

In real life, Freeman says, he has indeed learned a thing or two. “For one thing,” he says, “I know now that life is short, so you’d really better enjoy it and not rush it.

“This reminds me of when I was young and in the military,” says Freeman, a veteran of the Air Force. “I remember complaining at the time that I could die for my country, but not get a drink in the bar. I kept saying, ‘I wish I was older.’

“A major pulled me aside and said, ‘Don’t rush yourself in life. You’ll find out soon enough that every year seems shorter and shorter’,” the actor recalls. “Those were true words. Each year does seem shorter and shorter, so you can’t waste a moment of it.”

That sounds like 
good advice, especially when delivered in Freeman’s trademark slow, imperturbable, impeccably phrased diction. 
That voice lies at the core of his two summer films, one of which casts him as an older man with wisdom to impart, the other as an ageing writer who has lost his way and gotten out of touch with his own wisdom.

In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the third instalment of the director’s Batman series, Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, sage counsellor to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), aka Batman. The film, which will open in the US today, is set eight years after The Dark Knight (2008), which ended with Batman going undercover after unfairly taking the blame for the crimes committed by Two Face (Aaron Eckhart). It has been years since Batman has been seen, and he has assumed the status of an urban legend... until a terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) targets Gotham City and Batman must emerge from hiding to protect his city.

Freedom Fighter: Freeman’s portrayal of former South African president Nelson 
Mandela in Invictus earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor

"I really hope that little movie ‘Batman’ catches on,” Freeman jokes, speaking by telephone from a Los Angeles hotel on a warm summer morning. “‘Batman’ is a really small summer movie. It probably won’t get much in the way 
of promotion.”

Seriously, though, all indications are that 
The Dark Knight Rises will be the last in Nolan’s series of Batman films, which began with Batman Begins (2005). As far 
as Freeman is concerned, that’s fine with him. “I hate to tell you this, but I’m 
not sad that it’s over,” he says. “Honestly, I didn’t expect it to go past the third movie.”

Freeman in The Bucket List (with Jack Nicholson), 
The Dark Knight (with Christian Bale)

That said, the actor adds that he enjoys 
playing Fox as much now as he did seven years ago. “It was a thrill for me,” Freeman says. “I like being the guy behind the moves. He helps put 
the plans in motion. It’s also been extremely exciting to work with this level of talent in a film 
that has been such a phenomenon.

“The first film was so outrageously good,” he continues. “We really set a standard with that movie. I think these films were also different. It wasn’t the campy Batman, but a serious one. I also think that Nolan’s Batman always catches an audience by surprise. We’re pretty much programmed to accept the same kind of superhero action movie, and all of Nolan’s films — including this new one — are filled 
with surprises.”

The Magic of Belle Isle (with Emma Fuahrmann), Shawshank Redemption (with Tim Robbins)

As for the specifics of those surprises, Freeman only laughs. “If I give away anything in terms of plot, not only will Christopher Nolan come to my house tonight in a very upset mood, but I think all the Warner honchos will be right behind him,” he says cheerfully.

“You’ll get nothing out of me. The truth is, I really wouldn’t want to ruin a minute of it for the fans. I can just say that it’s a very good film and a satisfying one.”

His other summer 
film is distinctly smaller 
in scale: Freeman stars 
in Rob Reiner’s The Magic of Belle Isle, currently in limited release, as a jaded author who has lost touch with his muse. Confined to a wheelchair, he retreats to a small 
town where, despite 
himself, he becomes involved in the lives of his neighbours, a single mother and her three children. One of them, played by Emma Fuhrmann, is a nine-year-old aspiring writer.

“Rob was actually thinking of someone else to do the film,” Freeman says, “but then he remembered how much fun we had doing The Bucket List (2007) together. Meanwhile I really liked this character. Being in a wheelchair also offers you a completely different acting challenge. Of course you’re not called upon to do chin-ups while delivering dialogue, but the wheelchair does add a different element.”

He also relished working with children, Freeman reports. “I love the relationship that develops between my character and the kids,” he says. “As an actor, I think it’s very compelling to watch young people work. I was a child actor. We had this seven-year-old (Nicolette Pierini) who was just outstanding and compelling. She was instinctively great.

“I’m always open to learning something, emotionally or intellectually,” Freeman says. “That’s why it’s great to work with kids who are just so instinctive about it.”

Freeman can also be seen on television this summer, hosting the new season of his Discovery Science Channel series Through the Wormhole. It explores all the mysteries of the universe, including portals, wormholes — theoretical links between far-distant parts of the universe — and the existence of aliens.

“It was again serendipity, which is important in my life,” Freeman says. “Some years ago my producer partner and I started a company called Click Star. We had channels for different things. The idea was that we could interest different actors, producers and directors who like documentaries about interesting subjects. I was going to have a specific channel for outer-space documentaries and also talk about the solar system and the universe. That company never went, but the people at Discovery got wind of it and thought it was a great idea, so we developed this series.”

His fascination with worlds beyond our own long predates the series, though. “I suppose I’ve had a lifelong interest,” Freeman says. “I believe that at some point we will transcend space travel. I think we’ll figure that out, for the simple reason that there is no horizon we won’t try to conquer.

“I’ve been feeling for a long time that, whatever we can imagine, we can actually do,” he says. “When it comes to wormholes, the scientists who are doing the math say that technically it’s possible to do it. It’s just a matter of learning how to harness the energy necessary.”

A native of Memphis, Freeman studied at Los Angeles Community College before serving in the Air Force. He got his acting start on the stage, appearing in various Off-Broadway productions before 
his first big break, which came when he joined the cast of the children’s show The Electric Company (1971 to 1977). He had made his film debut with a walk-on in The Pawnbroker (1964), but it wasn’t until he played street hustler Fast Black in Street Smart (1987) that he really got traction in Hollywood.

Since then Freeman has amassed one of the movie industry’s most impressive filmographies, appearing in such classic films as Lean on Me (1989), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Unforgiven (1992), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Seven (1995), Bruce Almighty (2003), March of the Penguins (2005) and Invictus (2009), in which his performance as President Nelson Mandela of South Africa earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. It was one of five Oscar nominations he’s received, winning once as Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby (2004).

His next film will team Freeman with three other ageing Hollywood icons — Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Christopher Walken — in a comedy called Last Vegas, about four friends in their 60s who meet in Las Vegas to throw a bachelor party 
for the only one of the 
four (Douglas) who has never married.

“That’s going to be another fun one to do,” Freeman says. “I’ll be with two actors I’ve been waiting to work with my entire life, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas. I play one of the friends. We all just kind of go crazy in Vegas. It’s a lot of ladies, a lot of eye candy.”

And, he promises, a message as well. “The film proves that, no matter what age you are, if you can move and get around, then the number doesn’t really matter,” he says.

That’s a welcome message for an actor who turned 75 in June. “Here’s what I really think about getting older,” Freeman says. “I figure that, the older I get, the more people see my work and the better known I am. That is good news.”

— New York Times Syndicate

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