Morgan Freeman is a prickly pear of an interview. A veteran of the industry for over thirty years, he – like Tommy Lee Jones – does not suffer foolish questions gladly, and proved it in our talk. We got a chance to speak with him on the set of Dolphin Tale, and when engaged he was fun to talk to, but if you hit him with questions that he thought were beneath him, he showed it.
Dolphin Tale is Freeman’s third film co-starring with Ashley Judd, and a rare return to children’s entertainment after his early run as “Easy Reader” on The Electric Company. Freeman is one of the most respected actors in the industry, an academy award winner, and – at this point – a living legend. Check out our talk after the jump.
Freeman was pushed in as the director was leaving, and so the two briefly exchanged words as Morgan sat down. His presence is undeniable, but with the character’s wild hair, and the slump that comes from downtime from shooting, he came in looking to intimidate us, and he did a good job.
Before getting to the on set interview, here’s the latest trailer for Dolphin Tale:
Morgan Freeman: Just ask me yes no questions please.
Question: Your acting seems effortless. Is that part of the act or has it just become (snaps fingers) for you?
Freeman: You know the trick to any profession is making it look easy, right? So you’re not supposed to see me acting. That’s what I work for, that’s what we all work for, so you don’t see the wheels turning. I hope that’s a good answer. (laughs)
Question: I think it was Roger Ebert who said about Shawshank Redemption that you’re one of cinema’s greatest listeners, you’re so good at being there and not overpowering the other actor, but when it comes to your turn you do it. Is listening still a big part of your work?
Freeman: Listening is the biggest part of it. Listening engages you with the other actor. Then once you’re engaged, you don’t really have to act you just react. I think I learned that somewhere in my thirties. (chuckles)
Question: Did you spend any time with the man your character is based on?
Freeman: None, I don’t think I’ve ever met him beyond today. But it’s pointless to try, it’s really not necessary. He’s a completely different person than I am. I decided that this character would be sort of disheveled and unkempt and uncombed – for all intents and purposes – because he’s so dedicated to what he’s doing, trying to get these people into some shape so they can live a life. That’s what he thinks about night and day and not whether or not his hair is combed.
Question: I was watching Gone Baby Gone again recently, and there you were working with Ben Affleck, who was an actor-turned-director and here you’re working with Charles Martin Smith, who’s also an actor-turned-director. Do you feel there’s a difference?
Freeman: With directors who know something about acting? Absolutely. Generally it’s much easier to work with actor/directors versus writer/directors. The reason is that actor/directors know a lot more about what you’re going through. As an actor what you need, how much space it takes. Whereas writer/directors in large part know all of the characters intimately, so it’s hard to get them out of your hair.
Question: What were some of the aspects of the script when you read it that you liked about it that made you want to be a part of the film?
(Freeman puts his head on the desk and shakes his head a little)
Question: Was there an aspect about the real life story that you enjoyed?
Freeman: It’s a nice little family movie, it’s a nice feel good movie. And they’re good to do every now and then when a good one comes your way.
Question: Is it hard to find a good family film script?
Freeman: It’s hard to find a good script period. They’re just not falling out of the sky all over the place. Amazingly we don’t have a lot of great writers left because – and this is my opinion – there was so much demand that they get burned out. You can’t just sit down and continue to grind out good scripts, you won’t have it in you. So we’ve got blogs, we’ve got the internet, we got television we’ve got DVD. I mean the demand is just too high. So for a writer to sit down and come up with a good one now and again, they’re few and far between.
Question: Have you had much interaction with Winter (the dolphin)?
Freeman: Only a little. I noticed when I got there – you know I’ve never had any intimate relationships with a dolphin. Horses, dogs, chickens, geese, things like that. But not fish. And so I was trying to ingratiate myself, it’s just like a little child. She shies away and then she comes back and then finally you can touch her a little bit, and that’s enough, so you feel like you’re really accomplishing something if she lets you be close and pet her. “I GOT HER!”
Question: What’s your relationship like with Sawyer in the film?
Freeman: My relationship with Winter is strictly professional, it’s the same thing. What I’m after is success for myself. If I can make this thing stay on her, and make her comfortable with it then that’s it I can walk away. Not like the rest of the vets that I’m fitting prostheses on. “Can you use, is it good for you? Good, go live a life.” That’s as far as I go with it, in my thinking about the character.
Question: Does your character become a role model for Sawyer, or just sort of helps him with Winter? Is he a mentor?
Freeman: No, the relationship is between Dr. Clay Haskell, his relationship is with Clay. I’m just someone he sort of exploits. “Could you do that with a dolphin?”
Question: We were talking with Mr. Gamble earlier, and someone here was showing him Electric Company footage.
Freeman: Oh, that’s Harry (Connick Jr.) He has all these different episodes of Electric Company on his iPod. He brings them up and plays them and shows them to everybody.
Question: It’s interesting because you’re working with these younger actors like Mr. Gamble and Mr. Stowell, and both are newer to the profession. Stowell was telling us that this was his first day with you and it was very intimidating, but then he thought “this is the job.” Can you feel that when you’re working with a newer actor? You are Mr. Morgan Freeman, the Oscar winning actor.
Freeman: Five time Academy award nominee, if you please. (laughs) I think part of your job as a quote veteran unquote… I remember this: In 1978 I got a phone call and this is the voice (does a Jose Ferrer impression) “Morgan, this is Jose Ferrer. I have a wonderful two character play I’d like you to read, and maybe you’d like to do it with me.” And so my jaw drops all the way down to my navel. “Who? Jose Ferrer?” (Jose Ferrer impression) “Yes.” So for one week in rehearsals I couldn’t get my head out of my butt because “(pants) This is Jose Ferrer! Wow! I’m on stage with him, just he and I! Golly!” and he would say “Morgan, Morgan. You’ve got to get over this.” So, yeah, the trick is when you’re working with young people – and I don’t know if they’re intimidated or not but my task is to make a set comfortable. Easy. Don’t come on with some sort of ignorant attitude and put people off. I mean, I’ve put people off on purpose so they know “don’t look at me. You know who I am? Tell him who I am?”
Question: That’s Morgan Freeman, five time academy award nominee.
Freeman: There you go. You got it, you got it. Stick with that, and you and me are going to get along. You say that, and everyone laughs and the set’s easy and all tension is diffused. I’ve been on tense sets and they’re not fun to be on. People don’t want to hang around someone that you don’t know how they’re going to react to anything you do or say.
Question: Speaking of that, when you found out Ashley Judd was going to be in this movie, what you looking forward to the most reuniting with her?
Freeman: You don’t know? Ashley and I – aside of having a life outside of movies, we’ve done two together – just have this nice feeling for each other. I’m always looking forward to not just seeing her, but acting with her. She’s a marvel. She’s got so many things going, she’s so powerful. Very driven lady. You know she does this other stuff? And she’s scared she’s not doing enough.
Question: I’ve heard that you might be in The Last Full Measures.
Morgan Freeman: What is that?
Question: I heard it was with Jack Nicholson.
Morgan Freeman: News to me, but I would do anything with Jack.
And with that, Morgan Freeman left us. Dolphin Tale comes out September 23.
For more from our set visit, here’s our interview with Ashley Judd and our set visit recap with interviews with director Charles Martin Smith, Austin Stowell and Nathan Gamble.