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December 2007
An Interview with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson

An Interview with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson

by Steven Chupnick

December 23, 2007

When you have a film starring Morgan Freeman, chances are you’ve got a major hit on your hands. The acting legend pretty much makes some of the best choices in roles. Add Jack Nicholson to that mix and director Rob Reiner, and that major hit is pretty much golden.

That’s exactly what occurs in Morgan’s latest film, The Bucket List. One of the most genuine films to come along in a while, Morgan and Jack star as two guys – from opposite ends of the track – who find friendship in the oddest of ways. After meeting in a hospital room, the two make a decision to live out the rest of their lives in style – a luxury trip around the world, courtesy of Jack’s billionaire fortune.

BlackFilm.com had the pleasure of sitting down with Morgan and Jack to discuss The Bucket List. And what a treat that was! Check out what these two Hollywood icons had to say about the film, their own personal lives and possibly working together again.

Does doing a movie like this bring home a sense of dealing with your own mortality or do you ignore those things when you are making a film about death?

Morgan Freeman: I think what you are always doing, in any acting situation, is acting. You are not trying to live the character; if you are, then you are going to get into deep trouble I think. Playing a character that is dying or going to die, you just do it; I don’t have any sense of my own mortality, I reject any thoughts of my own mortality. What’s to think about there? I like the premise of the movie; it ain’t about that, it’s about living.

Jack Nicholson: Yeah, that’s right. That’s what the first audience said ‘This is a movie about living.’ One of the things about it that I like is that everybody considers their mortality all the time, whether they know it or not. That fear of the unknown it drives you. I went to so many lectures that illustrate this point, that it’s phenomenal. I think what I asked the other group we just came from ‘Did the movie stay with you?’ We wanted, even though it’s a comic approach, we wanted it to have some resonance; they said that it did. I think it’s because these are interior, private conversations that we have with ourselves. We haven’t really seen them on film before; we haven’t seen them sort of on the nose before. I’m sure we’ve all been to a funeral and said ‘Well, how do I want my, whatever you want to call it, to be dealt with?’ Do you want a big statue, like this, which is one of my considerations sometimes? Do you want to be staked out on the top of a tree, like an Indian, and let the birds eat you? All these kinds of things, nobody is that different. I went by the assumption that these are things that people have thought about. How consciously have they thought about it, I don’t know, but if you touch that chord this is what you get.

How did you find a rhythm with each other? Did you keep pushing each other further than the script called for?

Morgan Freeman: I’ve been dancing with him since the beginning; I know his rhythms, I know lots about him, just from watching his work.

Jack Nicholson: Other than where it’s the goal of the character, like I have to push to get him in this trip, so there is that. Other than that, I don’t think that either Morgan or me are pushers exactly; I think each of us is more than enough for the other. I told him when I first met him I said ‘You know, Morgan, this might be something that somebody didn’t say about you. I consider you the modern James Dean.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I’m talking about his one thing - there is acting and there is cinema.’ Dean had this quality. When they wear a hat, or a coat, or whatever you don’t see a graphically non-telling image of Morgan ever. You don’t have to do too much, and he does plenty, but I don’t think he had heard that about himself. Apropos of watching one another, I bring this up because I thought that about him for a long time. I could almost list the various hats or coats and what they meant to the character; I could say why it was not only right for the character but it served the big picture. This is what I thought was Dean; Dean knew how to be photographed, that was his main talent.

Do either of you have a bucket list? Were any of the things you wanted to do on this fictional list in the film?

Jack Nicholson: I’ll give them the shorty. I would love to see the Pyramids.

Morgan Freeman: I think we all have a private bucket list; it may not be written down on paper, but you have it written down somewhere. I’m constantly checking them off; I just checked him off. I shouldn’t say checked him off, maybe I just moved him down.

Did you spend time off the set as well?

Morgan Freeman: We went to a Lakers game together; we had an interesting experience that night. When we were leaving, people accosted you and you stopped and gave autographs; I run, I hate giving out autographs.

Jack Nicholson: Yeah, he hates getting stopped. Well, they are used to me down there. They are all professional guys so let them make a few bucks. I had a great experience with Morgan that night; I introduced him to Frank Robinson. Morgan is extremely gentle but don’t take him for granted. Another couple there, the woman says of her husband ‘Yeah, I’ve always said he looks just like you Morgan.’ Morgan kind of stiffened up like this, grabbed the guy, and put him next to him like this. He said ‘Now, tell the truth, do we look anything like one another?’ I think you get what the implied stinger in that was. I thought ‘That’s my man; he’s sweet, but don’t f*ck with him.’

As truthful as you can be, how close to these characters are you really? Is there anything on your bucket list as far as your career?

Morgan Freeman: Well, I don’t know, I’ve never been a mechanic. Yes, I have; actually, I was an electronics technician when I was in the Air Force in my teens. Throughout my life, what I have been is an actor, a pretender, and one who gets a real kick out of make believe. I don’t think I’m that close to that character. Also, I’m - knock on wood - outstandingly healthy. Aside from being 6’2 and black…

Jack Nicholson: Really?

Morgan Freeman: I don’t know if I have that many of the same attributes; I have a wife and stuff like that, but my answer to that is, no. I don’t think I have that much in common with the character.

Is there one character or one part that is not on your resume?

Morgan Freeman: You mean like if it has to stop tomorrow which one would I do? It’s hard to say because there are a lot of them. I have a Mandela script I’m going to be doing next year; I really want to do that. And there is a western character named Bas Reeves, which I wanted to do for 15 years.

Jack Nicholson: Who wrote it?

Morgan Freeman: No one wrote it yet, that’s the thing.

Jack Nicholson: Oh, you are just making it up, I got you.

Morgan Freeman: The character is a real person.

Jack Nicholson: Morgan works on the stage; I haven’t done it since I was a kid. I am going to re-read the play, but he told me he was going to do something and I thought ‘What would he and I do on the stage?’ I thought ‘J.B.’ is a natural for Morgan and I. This is G-d and the Devil - the voice of G-d.

Morgan Freeman: I want to be the devil.

Jack Nicholson: He would show me the ropes, that’s really what I’m getting around to here. I don’t yearn to work on the stage, but I don’t know any other kind. I like the part in Cormick McCarthy’s book (No Country for Old Men); I read the book and I didn’t know that they were already making the movie. I like that Tommy Lee part in there. It’s a brilliant novel. I also know that Tommy is a personal friend of Cormick McCarthy, so even if it wasn’t already being made, I wouldn’t have much of a shot. You see stuff every once in a while.

What did you think of the character’s decisions to own their own death?

Morgan Freeman: I quoted earlier, almost inadvertently, about a line from Shawshank Redemption. This is a case of Jack’s character saying to my character, ‘Look, you either get busy living, or you get busy dying.’ So, the decision was let’s get busy living.

Jack Nicholson: And you recognize certain structural things. We knew that we had to make that believable and it’s in the script if you look at it. It pays off in the line where Morgan is in the bathtub and he says, ‘Why do you think I did this?’ ‘Because I talked you into it.’ My character is a guy who is good at moving people. Morgan just says, ‘You’re not that strong.’ But it’s in there from the beginning of him getting what is very real. Say what you like, we’re in this boat together. You can make your decision, but the real reality is that you can’t talk to nobody else but me about this. Everybody else has issues, agendas, things they think, and more people die from visitors and diseases - that is true. Someone may ask, ‘How much research did you do?’ Well, we both spent a lot of time in the hospitals, whether it’s visiting friends, you are there, everybody, because it’s part of our lives; it’s in the script. It’s resolved because my character does feel a little bad; maybe he did the wrong thing for selfish reasons. His character says, and I don’t know what his subtext was, but ‘This guy probably thinks he talked me into this. You ain’t that strong buddy.’ That’s what I mean by sentiment and not sentimentality; that’s not a sentimental beat in the scene. For this guy, at this point to say, ‘You don’t really get it yet.’ It’s good story telling in my opinion.

And that about sums up The Bucket List – very good story telling! You can catch Morgan and Jack in The Bucket List in select theaters on December 25th; it opens nationwide January 11th.


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