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Interview : Morgan Freeman

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He’s an Academy Award nominee and one of the truly great actors of his generation. Morgan Freeman is also someone who doesn’t suffer folks gladly, is outspoken if need be and manages to effortlessly glide from mainstream Hollywood to its Indie world. The esteemed actor will play cold renegade soldier whose obsession with hunting aliens is imminently self-destructive in the Stephen King’s "Dreamcatcher", which opens this week.

While in Levity, which opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival, he plays a mysterious priest who stumbles into the life of an ex-con who returns home. Add to that Freeman’s recent Hollywood star of fame and talk of war, and Morgan Freeman is never short of an interesting word as PAUL FISCHER discovered when he spent some time with the actor earlier this year during chilly Sundance, and discussed both films and other topics in between.

Paul Fischer: Because you do so many studio movies and big films, where do you fit in the time to do a little film like Levity, and how do they come to you?
Morgan Freeman: Well you know you never get time for anything; you MAKE time. So, if a nice little project comes along – I shouldn’t even say a little project because every role has its own size and importance and some times it’s the smaller independent films that give you the most work to do.

P.F:Does doing a movie like that kind of re-energize you in some ways as an actor?
M. F:I’m not sure, I know what you mean, but I’m not sure that re-energizing is what is going on, but it does offer you better work. The work that you’re going to do is going to be more in your line of work you know, because there are those of us actors who function better in action situations and don’t have to do too much transitional work. And, then there are actors who really enjoy the transitional work, which I do, and that’s what I eat up.

P.F:The older you get is it easier or harder to find the really good roles?
P.F:Probably the older you get the harder it is because most of the writers are young writers, trained on television and writing for a young audience, so…

P.F:And yet you’re never out of work?
P.F:I am, it just doesn’t seem that way.

P.F:I mean do you get bored or frustrated when you’re not working?
No I have enough toys and things to keep me busy.

P.F:Your boat and …
My boat, my plane, my horses. Between those three I’m fine. You never know when you career is over until after it’s over. If the phone doesn’t ring for three months, you start thinking. And, after six months you know, well let’s look at your retirement plan —–

Well what would you do if you couldn’t act anymore?
If I couldn’t act anymore I’d probably be a paraplegic or something so…

P.F:Really?
Yeah.

P.F:It still gives you that sense of being?
Yeah, I mean that’s all I’ve ever been. I guess if I was still mobile, I would produce and become a full time producer.

P.F:You do attach yourself to films as a producer?
Yes I do because I have a film company and we’ve got a lot of projects in the pipeline.

That you’re going to be in or just produce?
We’ll yeah; I’ll be in some of them, not all of them.

You have this I guess onscreen reputation of being the master of sedate or do you like to use gravitas?
Love gravitas oh boy.

P.F:Because it’s a word that comes up often when we talk to you at press junkets.
Yes.

P.F:Are you tired of it?
Well yeah, I guess I’m tired of the aura of it. At the same time I choose my own films so that’s not you know….

P.F:So you partly have yourself to blame.
Yeah. I have only myself to blame but I don’t know why it is but it just seems like the best stories that I read appeal to me.

P.F:What about the character in Levity?
I wouldn’t see gravitas in this guy, I saw…well, let me go back because maybe that is what defines yeah, too, gravitas. You can get away from the idea of it, you know. The actuality of it, the actual presence of it…whatever it is that comes and, obviously, it has to do with the gravitas’ character.

P.F:Right
And so, I think that probably…because maybe it tests too much…

P.F:Did you always feel acting to be a realistic profession to embark upon?
Yes.

P.F:Is it something you need to do?
Yes, absolutely.

P.F:Why?
Because that’s who I am. I was always able to pretend full out and nothing else that I even contemplated interested me for more then, you know, a couple months at a time.

P.F:What was the worse thing you had to do while you were struggling as an actor?
Um, work as a counter man at Lee’s which was like working at McDonalds. The worse thing I ever did because…I guess it was because it didn’t pay at all and they wouldn’t let you get tips.

P.F:Really?
Yeah. And I got the job after I had done my first real card carrying professional job as a dancer, and that show closed and I couldn’t get anything else, so I had to wind up going to work at Lee’s and I remember one night, one of the dancers that I had worked with, a guy named Bob, who came in and got a hot dog and saw me behind the counter and said what are you doing here?

P.F:Well, that must have been hard for you.
Sort of.

P.F:So do you bring in your life experiences to your work now as you look back on those days?
I always look back. I always remember where I came from and I’m always amazed at where I am.

P.F:Why does that amaze you?
You have to know where I came from.

P.F:Yeah, but you didn’t have it easy?
It was a small town in Mississippi. And then at the same time, that gave me this perspective. If you know what you want, you can obtain it. For those of us who don’t know what we want, we have trouble getting there.

P.F:You now live in that same small town in which you grew up, right?
Yeah. I moved back there.

P.F:Why was that important to you, at this time in your life, to move back there?
I moved back about 12 years ago and I did it because I live in Mississippi and having travelled around the country, the world, particularly the country, I have discovered that there was no place to go to hide from racism. If it’s a problem for you, it’s a problem for you. You just find it wherever you are. And I was really sick of the urban scene being packed in with eight million other people, living in a box, you know, remembering that my parents had it. And they moved back to Mississippi four years before and I’d go back and sit and realize how absolutely beautiful and peaceful it was. That’s how I grew up, just kind of sitting, you know, taking my fishing cane and going down to the creek and catching fish and sitting in the China berry tree and dreaming.

P.F:Sounds very idyllic.
Well it was, but you have to put it into perspective to realize it.

P.F:So when you make a movie and shoot in cities around the world, do you enjoy getting back there as quickly as possible?
Yes. I almost never hesitate. I never stay in a place beyond, gosh I, you know…if I go someplace I’m only going to be a couple of days and the company gives me a couple more days just to sight see and I’ll, I’ll take that, but if I’m working three months in a place or even three weeks, most of the time I want to go home.

P.F.: Ironic since your next film is going to be shot in Paris.
Yeah. I, I agree with you, but the…the story is engaging, very engaging.

P.F:What’s the name of the film?
It’s called Danny the Dog.

P.F:And who is Danny the Dog?
Me. The human pit bull.

P.F:And you play the gravitas in this movie?
Very serious gravitas.

P. F:Have you ever worked with Luc Besson before?
No, I haven’t.

P.F:Odd Frenchman
Yeah, I know he is. That’s what I like about him.

P.F:Really?
Yeah. I like the things he’s been attached to.

P.F:What kind of character do you play ?
I’m going to play a piano tuner. A widow piano tuner of a teenaged daughter.

P.F:Now I know you hate the cold so from that perspective was Dreamcatcher a tough shoot for you?
No. It really wasn’t and the reason it wasn’t was that they spent a fortune on arctic clothing for it. You know, we had these boots that kept us that far off the snow. Everywhere you went they put on heat at you.

P.F:Was that an interesting experience, generally, making the film?
Yeah. It was a very interesting experience working with Larry Kasdan.

P.F: Did you relish being the kind of villain in the piece?
He’s not a bad guy. Only in that people who are entrusted with a mission who get messianic about it, he’s gotten really dedicated to this and he’s just on his way around the bend. His young protégé can see it and doesn’t quite know what to do about it until somebody gives him some insight.

P.F.: How about dealing with special effects which are plentiful?
That’s good moviemaking. He’s not depending on the effects to make the movie. If the characters hold you and you’re not just waiting for the next CGI, that’s good.

P.F.: What’s the appeal of Stephen King do you think?
I think the appeal is there because Stephen is not just a prolific writer but a really good writer, an excellent writer. If you look at the things that were made into movies, they were made into movies because they were really well drawn character studies. In the scary ones, the ones outside of things like Shawshank, what do you want for visuals? Carrie for instance. That was a character.

P.F: What about Bruce Almighty?
Full blown comedy. It’s a situation where I just go on vacation for a while. He says to me at one point, ‘You’re God, you can’t go on vacation.’ And my answer is, ‘Did you ever hear of the dark ages?’ I don’t make jokes, but he has a sense of humor.

P.F:Now you’ve talked about politics in the past and stuff like that…
I try not too actually. I got no business talking about politics.

P.F:Are you generally optimistic about what’s going on in the world. Are you concerned? Are you worried?
Oh, I’m very worried about what’s going on in the world at the moment because we have this Napoleonic president, by Napoleonic I mean he’s a man who just seems to need to search himself. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t have any love loss on Saddam Hussein. If he needs to be removed from office, fine. You have to find the right way to do it, but going to war, nah, with the people. To do what. What is the real reason? Because he’s harbouring weapons of mass destruction?

P.F:So, it is with North Korea?
So, it is with North Korea…

P.F:Right
Why are we acting to acquiesce to this? We do not need the Iraqi oil. We have Kuwait oil…It’s the same pool. That’s why Kuwait’s there. That’s why Kuwait was set up. You think that country could exist there without somebody backing it?

P.F:Yeah. Absolutely
We’re talking about a piece of Iraq. So, we keep this. That’s my noise. I am terribly upset about the whole thing.

DREAMCATCHER OPENS THIS FRIDAY
LEVITY OPENS ON APRIL 4

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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