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May 2005
Unleashed: An Interview with Morgan Freeman

Unleashed: An Interview with Morgan Freeman

By Wilson Morgan

What do you do when you finally have the Oscar award that's been alluding you for years? Do you do an encore performance by taking another serious role with a big name director or do you sit back and wait for your paycheck to increase? For Morgan Freeman, it's not the award or money that matters but rather the chance to work to with a good script and talented people. Fresh from winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Million Dollar Baby", Freeman is slated to appear in a few high profile films this summer. The first of these movies is UNLEASHED, an action packed film featuring Freeman and Jet Li. The second film will be BATMAN BEGINS with Christian Bale, Katie Holmes and Liam Neesom. In speaking to blackfilm.com about his role in UNLEASHED, Freeman spoke about working with Jet Li and playing a blind character.

I noticed that you didn't mention any names during your acceptance speech.

MF: The reason I don't start calling names is that you always wind up forgetting somebody. Oh no, no, you can't take me off, I've got to say, no. Just say thank you, and you get everybody.

What was it about the script that got you interested in this film?

MF: Primarily, it was Luc Besson. I'm a big fan of his work. I saw him in L.A. and he said he had a project he'd like to interest me in. Then he sent the script a little while later. And I liked it.

How did you approach your character, Sam?

MF: Well, Sam was very sensitive, very warm, very bubbly, just very merry, you know and I don't want to change the character but this was the concept, but I needed to enhance it somehow so that you get all of this goodness was going to be believable. But I didn't come to that conclusion when I decided that he should be flying. That's the conclusion that I have come to after being asked why. And then I am asked myself why did I want to make him blind, why did you make him blind because it's better. It seemed to fit the character. Challenging, sensitive, so when I told Lucas that I wanted the man blind he didn't think it was a good idea so he was shook up but he thought about it for a couple of minutes and said, yeah, it's a great idea.

Do you see a lot of similarities between this role and the one for which you won the Academy Award?

MF: No. I did this movie a long time ago. I'm a little dense. I really don't think about what I did before while I'm doing this. I might think about it while I'm reading the script, and if I see too many glaring similarities, I will probably reject it. There are still going to be similarities in anything you do, because you're doing it. You look like yourself, unfortunately.

The director, Louis Leterrier, had mentioned that he was a bit intimidated by your legendary status. How did you feel about being directed by someone so young and 30 years old?

MF: I feel fine, I don't care who the director is. All you have to do is know what your doing - all of us - everybody in the business -- that's all you ask anyone - you know your job, I know mine, let's go do it. You know, 18 years old, 30 years old, 80 years old ____ yeah, you know, you do get sort of - like I was intimidated going on the set with Jet Li, listen I can tell you, all you have to do is decide, but to shake his hand, what is he going to do, he's going to think you're too strong, you know, but when you come in contact with someone the statute is elevated, there's a moment there when there's a little intimidation so it's just something to get over.

What makes you decide to take a part? Is it the role or the story?

MF: Most of the time, it's the role. Seldom, but sometimes, it's the story. And other times, it's just the paycheck, or the fact that I haven't worked in a while. I can only be so long without work before I start getting antsy.

How was working with Jet Li?

MF: Jet is a terrific actor. He won't tell you who is. But I'm telling you he is. We got on instantly. He's a very warm, engaging individual himself. He spent time with an acting coach in his build-up in working on his character. This was a Jet Li that hasn't been called on before, but that I think you're going to see a lot more, because he wants to do movies that have more and more depth..

What's next for you?

MF: A picture called The Contract. We'll be shooting that in Bulgaria in late summer. I play an assassin.

Who else is in the film?

MF: I don't know. I think it's going to be John Cusack. We play adversaries bound together, going through the woods. He's trying to escape. My guys are trying to catch up to get me loose. I'm handcuffed because I was wrongfully arrested by the Feds, yet really rightfully.

What can you say about Batman Begins?

MF: It's coming out this Summer. It's going to be a whole new concept at bat, and he's going to get a new bat mobile.

What's your role in the film?

MF: I'm Batman's version of Q [the 007 inventor who supplied James Bond with his weapons]. I'm part of the design team for all these wonderful toys that The Joker's complaining about.

Do you still find the travel aspect of acting appealing, like going all the way to Bulgaria to shoot a movie?

MF: You want to be home about three weeks after you left in a big way but the family's okay, particularly if you're going someplace you never been before. It's just to get a look see. And some places you been before are so great that you don't ever mind going back. Some places you been before you don't ever want to go back, you know, like Montreal in the Winter.

I can imagine that you travel a lot.

MF: Yeah, we're always seeing places but a lot of the places we see we don't see much of. I for instance will go to any place - let's say Paris which is where we shot this movie, you get to your hotel, you go to bed, you get up 5:00 in the morning, you get in the car and you go to the set, you work until nightfall and get back in the car and go back to the hotel, you have to get home and go to bed and get up, get in the car and go to the set you know, you got one day off, one day, and I'm not a big sightseer so and I don't know, I've been Rome and Paris and London and those places and seen them but I wasn't doing nothing but work when I was there.

What's going with the other film you shot, Edison?

MF: I don't know. Nobody sold it. I think Edison had to go back on the set for more reshoots.

What's more appealing to you, the role or the story?

MF: Most of the time it's the role. Sometimes it's the story and sometimes it just the paycheck. It's the little movies that come out as stories or the fact that I have work to go out, you know what I'm saying, you can only be out so long without work, you start getting antsy.

Are you a music lover?

MF: I don't have that much of a relationship to the music actually. I like the blues a lot. I grew up on it. Played some great dance music and I lived in places not to far from Clarksdale, Mississippi and Clarksdale is the story home of the blues. It's where the blues began with John B. Hooker and a lot of people like that coming out of that area and a lot of people come from Clarksdale and all corners of the planet to feel that experience and before we built the club there was no guaranteed way to do it. There were a couple of little places there that may or may not have live music, you only can get what you can. Sometimes kids would be there and they looking for something and it's not going to be there, so I hooked up with a guy and my lawyer at the time, he's still my lawyer but we're not business partners, he said this is criminal. He's got people coming in from Japan, Australia, Norway, England and everywhere to hear the music and so then we built the club.


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