The award-winning actor and Through the Wormhole host weighs in on the presidential campaign and talks about his experiences working on The Dark Knight Rises.
Actor Morgan Freeman, Part 2Originally aired on June 20, 2012
Tavis: So last night things were just getting good when we had to end our conversation with Morgan Freeman, so thankfully he stuck around for another show so we can talk about “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Magic of Belle Isle,” two wonderful projects he has coming out, and so much more about what it means to be Morgan Freeman in today’s world.
You were saying last night at the end of the conversation that you’re a bit frightened, scared was your exact word -
Morgan Freeman: Yeah.
Tavis: – of the other side if we do not reelect Barack Obama.
Freeman: Yeah. One case in point, you look at the attempts to disenfranchise minority voters – I use the term “minority” advisedly here, because the Hispanic world is growing so fast that in no time at all I expect that they will be in the majority.
But my point is that women, Hispanics, Blacks, there is a large attempt, a great attempt at disenfranchisement. It’s out in the open. This isn’t like breaking news or anything. Why is that?
Tavis: Well, they would argue “voter fraud.”
Freeman: Yeah, but of all the people who are talking against that have asked for proof, and how much has arrived?
Tavis: Precious little.
Freeman: Precious little. So that isn’t quite it. Can’t possibly be quite it. It has to be that they know that this group is going to be pretty firmly in the camp of Barack Obama. I certainly will, not only because he’s doing a good job, I think, as president, but because his enemies are stepping out of closets. They’re wide open. If somebody’s going to spend $10 billion – no, $10 million -
Tavis: And more.
Freeman: I’m just talking about on one commercial.
Freeman: To downgrade you, because they got the money. Brings up that other question about is the country for sale. What do you think?
Tavis: It’s a good question, and the answer -
Freeman: Well, we’ll know after this.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. Well, the answer is yes. For that matter, everything and almost everybody these days is, and that’s the sad part, to my mind, of the decay of our civilization, the devolution of the culture, that too many things are up for sale, which allows me to ask an interesting question of you, since you went there. How have you avoided, intellectually, professionally, where your humanity is concerned, not putting yourself on the auction block?
So many people and so many institutions are up for sale in this culture, how have you avoided that?
Freeman: Have I? You think I have avoided that?
Tavis: Unless you want to concede that you have.
Freeman: Well, I -
Tavis: We all are compromised in our lives with the choices that we have to make.
Freeman: Well, yeah. I suppose if it’s a toss-up between the job that I want to do and the job that I’m going to be paid very well to do, then if that comes to fore and I have to make a choice and I make the money choice, then I can say I succumbed. Hasn’t happened yet. Knock wood. (Laughter)
Tavis: But it’s a very good case in point, because these two projects I referenced a moment ago, “The Magic of Belle Isle,” a not-so-big-budget project -
Freeman: Very small.
Tavis: – as compared to “The Dark Knight Rises,” very large.
Freeman: Very large, yeah.
Tavis: It seems to me that you have done a good job of balancing out that over the course of your career, and I suspect that has to do, again, with making choices not primarily based on money.
Freeman: No. No. After a while, there’s a point you get to when you know that I’m okay. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to pay the rent next month. I will be able to pay the rent next month, so I can do the kind of things that interest me, that I want to do.
And (unintelligible) get a good paycheck every now and then, it does make it very easy for you to turn down stuff that you really don’t want to do, money or no money.
Tavis: What about that notion that so many people believe and practice, for that matter – get while the getting is good. You don’t turn the payday down. You don’t know how the gravy train, how long this is going to last, you’re not going to be a star forever.
Freeman: That all works very well until you realize that you have enough money. What is enough money? It’s different for different people, depending what you want to do with it.
I want to make movies, and that takes money. You can’t make money without spending money, there’s that line. So that’s one of the drives behind make money, make hay while the sun shines. But I think that if you hay loft is full, what are you doing? You’re hoarding now.
Tavis: As I sit and look at you answering these questions with your hands crossed in front of you, you’re still wearing that glove and all your fans know why you’re wearing it and we’ve read about it.
I was going to ask if on any given day that annoys you, and annoys isn’t what I really want to get to. How do you process having to wear that every day, and what’s happened to your arm? Is there a sense of anger, a sense of frustration, a sense of -?
Freeman: There is frustration. I have a boat, I can’t sail it. It’s a big boat. I have a plane, I can’t fly it. I have horses, I can’t ride them. I could probably ride, but it’s taking a big chance. That’s very frustrating to me.
Otherwise, I look on the bright side. This is the result of a car accident that I did not have to walk away from. Matter of fact, I didn’t walk away from it; I was helicoptered away from it. But that’s the bright side, and it hasn’t stopped me from working at all, so I’m good.
Tavis: Let’s shift gears and talk about – we talked a little about the “Belle Isle” project, but the one that everybody is waiting on is – (laughter).
Freeman: Yeah, “Dark Knight.”
Tavis: “The Dark Knight,” yeah.
Freeman: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: So I know you can’t tell me anything about it, so I’m not even going to ask, because I know you won’t tell me.
Freeman: No, I can’t.
Tavis: Yeah, I knew that, see? I won’t waste my time asking. Did you enjoy the experience again?
Freeman: Yes, I enjoyed the – I have experienced – this is the third time out and it got better with each outing. It’s something to do with the relationship that develops between the actors and Chris Nolan. I think we all have this great appreciation for his talent. I just think he’s himself a work of art.
Tavis: You ever get concerned – I do, and I’m not an actor, but I get concerned when I see something happen two, three, four, five times, that it can’t continue to get better?
Tavis: It starts to go down at some point.
Tavis: But you obviously don’t feel that way about this project.
Freeman: No. I think number three is the charm. Number four is killer.
He has no plans to do four that I know of, because if you think about all of these superheroes movies, they’ve only lasted three times through, and then there’s an ignominious departure. (Laughter)
Tavis: I have always appreciated your voice, but the older you get and the more I hear it, whether it’s on a Visa commercial or “The Wormhole” or “March of the Penguins” or whatever else it might be, the more I hear it, the more delicious it sounds to the ear.
When did that thing happen where you started to get the kind of love that you get for the voice as opposed to the acting. I know the two things obviously go together, but your voice alone is a whole nother track for you, yes?
Freeman: Apparently. (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah. Apparently.
Freeman: I don’t know. When I was doing “The Electric Company,” we had to go to -
Tavis: You went way, way, way, way back.
Freeman: Way back, yeah.
Tavis: “Electric Company.”
Freeman: We’d have to go into the sound booth and do promos, and I started hearing myself, with this deep voice, on the headphones, say “The Electric Company is brought to you by the Children’s Television Workshop.” I said, “Oh, that sounds good.” (Laughter) It just, it goes from there. I don’t know. Working on stage is really a great voice developer.
Tavis: I get the sense, and this is not a – I’m not trying to brown nose here, but as I listen to you, since I do literally this for a living myself, as I listen to you, though, it sounds effortless. It doesn’t sound like you’re trying.
There’s just something in your voice, there’s something in the timbre and the tenor and that way that just resonates, but I don’t get the sense that you’re trying.
Freeman: That I’m making an effort to do that?
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Freeman: Well, no. Someone asked me if there was a special voice I use for this, that, or the other. I said, “No, my voice is my voice. You open your mouth and that’s what comes out.” So I’m not making any specific effort to do anything. The voice is a blessing. It is what it is. I don’t take credit for it, it’s just there. It’s like a talent. You can’t take credit for talent; you can only take credit for using it.
Tavis: But it works for you, though.
Tavis: Working awfully well for you.
Tavis: Yeah. How are you – I’m back to this point of these two different projects, the bigger one and then the smaller one.
Freeman: And the smaller one, mm-hmm.
Tavis: How are you going about making choices at this point in your career, and is the process that you use now for making selections different than what you used earlier in your career?
Tavis: The methodology for making those decisions.
Freeman: I think it has to be different now. I have to take a lot of things into consideration. If it’s action, can I do it? The fingers on my left hand don’t work. That’s all that doesn’t work, but you use your fingers nine million times a day. So that’s a consideration in choosing work.
I don’t think there’s much other than that. Is the project interesting? Is it something new to me? Is it a good story? Who’s in it? I’m at a point, and I have been for some years now, where I can sort of make these choices. Who do you want to do this with? So that’s a good place to be.
Tavis: Yeah, it’s a very good place to be.
Tavis: What were you doing before we came to know you as Morgan Freeman? Before this thespian thing happened for you, what was your life like, professionally?
Freeman: Well, I maybe have to make a decision here on when this Morgan Freeman thing started, actually. I got my first job as a card-carrying actor in New York in 1967. Before that, I was a very desperate wannabe.
By the time you’re 30 – I started when I got out of the military; I was 21, so looking back is not a very long period; nine years of “struggle.” But there were times a lot of times prior to that when I thought you’re barking up the wrong tree here, sport.
Got to figure out some other way to – actually never did quite succeed in figuring out something else.
Tavis: I’m glad you didn’t, and all of us who love your work are glad you didn’t figure something else out. But what kept you -
Freeman: Interestingly enough, it was two things – providence and friends. Whenever I would voice this frustration, this sense that I was barking up the wrong tree, I would get an enormous amount of encouragement from friends, like, “This is what you do. You stick with it.”
If I was able to overcome that, then providence would just come in and take a hand. You play golf?
Tavis: I do. Not as much as I want to or as well as I want to.
Freeman: Well, none of us, none of us, none of us, no.
Tavis: None of us do, yeah.
Freeman: But you go out there and you’re slicing balls and you’re hooking balls and you’re doffing balls, and all of a sudden you tag one. That’s providence telling you, “Don’t quit.”
Tavis: (Laughter) I ain’t heard providence say that to me yet, because I keep slicing and I keep hooking right. I can’t get that thing straight like I want to. I need some more training. I need a coach, yeah.
Freeman: Oh, okay. But I went to the driving range yesterday and I discovered something that a coach had been trying to make me understand that I couldn’t get it to save myself, and then yesterday it just clicked. I said, “Oh, yes, this is what he meant.”
I was hitting balls far and straight. So I said, “Ah ha.” Now, you teach yourself something like that and then you go to the golf course, it seems not to take. (Laughter)
Tavis: Doesn’t work so well, huh?
Tavis: That ain’t how it was working at the range the other day.
Freeman: (Unintelligible) bombing them, man. It was all going straight and far, and then here I can’t – what is it? I don’t know.
Tavis: Since you went there, I’m just following you. I love to follow you. I don’t know if you have any particular feelings about Tiger Woods, but if you do – I got my own, and most Americans do, I suspect – but what’s your hope for him at this point in – I want him to win a big one so bad again. He won, of course, a few weeks ago.
Freeman: He’s won, and he will win. I don’t like airing his linen. My feelings for him go deep. I was looking at him yesterday. At one point I looked at him, I just saw his mother. He looked so much like her in that one moment, and I wonder what their relationship is. If it’s not good, he ain’t going to do good.
That’s how I feel.
Tavis: Yeah. I take that. I know exactly what you mean by that. You were in – I’m trying to recall; I don’t want to misstate on television. You were in what division of the armed forces?
Freeman: I was in the Air Force.
Tavis: Air Force, right. I remember that because my father was in the Air Force for 37 years. Because you served in the military, what’s your sense of these war excursions that we have found ourselves in, and to the point earlier in this conversation, if the wrong person occupies the White House, we might find ourselves in more of these excursions.
But how is your view of war today, to the extent that it is, informed by having served in the military years ago?
Freeman: It isn’t informed by having served in the military. Morgan, you’re making a mistake. It is informed.
I – not military. I question authority, and you can’t do that. My feeling about where we are and what we’re doing now, I’m always drawn back to Dwight Eisenhower, who warned us when he was leaving office of just the situation we’re in today with the military industrial complex.
That’s our war machine. If you have a standing army that’s already always primed, it’s like having a junkyard dog chained. You’ve got to let him out and let him eat some meat at some point or other, and I just get the feeling sometimes that’s all we’re doing.
We’re just giving them something to do, some reason to be spending the kind of money we’re spending on the military. We don’t really need all this junk we’re buying, we really don’t.
I would much prefer to see us take even half the military budget and give it to NASA. That’s where we’d be having fun. That’s where we’d be doing something useful. Right now, I don’t think we’re doing anything useful. I think this whole excursion that we have in places in the world; we can do a better job than killing people.
Yes, we have enemies, and you can name them. They usually have (unintelligible) one person right now. But I don’t know if we need to be doing what we’re doing around the world. I don’t think we’re being particularly helpful.
Tavis: Before my time with you runs out, because I could do this for hours, I want to talk about “The Wormhole,” because that’s a fascinating, fascinating series.
Tavis: You seem to me to be very, very intellectually curious, and so some of these projects that you do are not just because somebody wants your voice or wants your name or because there’s a paycheck. But I get the sense, at least, that you’re as curious about this stuff as I am, as we are, the viewer.
Freeman: Yeah. Yeah. I’m terribly curious about it, and I like asking the questions, and I like the fact that we don’t dare presume to answer them. It’s just here is a question for us to contemplate. Can we live forever?
Now, scientists would say that could be possible, that could be possible. Can you raise the dead? Could be possible. It could be possible.
Tavis: Did we invent God?
Freeman: Could be possible.
Tavis: I don’t want to go there. (Laughter) When I saw that question pop up, I said, “Oh, Lord, here we go now.”
Freeman: Well, there’s no reason not -
Tavis: There’s been such debate about that already.
Freeman: Well, there’s no reason not to ask that question. The scientists, particularly the physicists, they have a point to get to in answering this question. They have all these theories about the universe, and the one thing that they have not been able to come up with that they’re striving mightily for is the unified theory, the theory of everything, that makes everything work.
They get to a stopping point. They call that the God point, because there’s a God point in procreation. When sperm meets egg, something magic happens – God. So did we invent God?
Tavis: Okay. (Laughter) We’re going to stop right there, one, because my time is up, and two, you should just check out the series.
Freeman: It’s a lot of fun.
Tavis: Yeah, I can imagine, I can imagine. It’s a lot of fun talking to you whenever you come on this program.
Freeman: It’s always fun talking to you, Tavis.
Tavis: I’m always delighted to have you.
Freeman: You’re a conversationalist. There’s maybe three people I know who do this well.
Tavis: Well, I just love getting inside that brain of yours, so thank you for letting me do it one more time.
Freeman: Thank you for having me.
Tavis: Two projects – “The Magic of Belle Isle,” with Rob Reiner behind that project. It stars Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen, a wonderful cast. Then of course this summer, the blockbuster – that’s not a very bold prediction. (Laughter) “The Dark Knight Rises,” the next in the “Batman” installment. Morgan Freeman, good to have you here, as always.
Freeman: Thank you, Tavis.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight.
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