Written and directed by Ron Shelton, the comedy Just Getting Started follows Duke (Morgan Freeman), the manager with a mysterious past who is making the luxury Palm Springs resort known as Villa Capri a fun, non-stop party place for its residents. But when ex-military man Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) shows up and makes eyes at the newly arrived Suzie (Rene Russo), it triggers a competition between the two men, that has both hilarious and dangerous consequences.
At the film’s press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actor Morgan Freeman, who talked about the appeal of this project, always wanting to know who he’ll be working with before he signs on, how much he enjoys doing comedy, why he greatly enjoyed working with Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo, his desire to work with Meryl Streep, wanting to do more light and positive films, and his interest in directing.
Collider: This seems like one of those projects that you do for fun and because you want to spend time with your fellow co-stars, especially Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo. When this was presented to you, did you know who you’d be working with?
MORGAN FREEMAN: Oh, yeah! I pretty much always know who I’m gonna be working with. That kind of surprise can be a deal-breaker. But being a fan, particularly of those two, and liking everybody else in the movie, it was surprisingly fun to do.
And this movie shows the kind of warm-weather Christmas that I’m used to, being from L.A.
FREEMAN: I remember my first Christmas in Los Angeles was in 1959, and it was 83 or 86 degrees. It was bright and sunny, and everybody was singing “Jingle Bells.” I was like, “What is this?!”
Typically, you’re the guy they go to for the gravitas and not the light-hearted comedy. Is this something you’d like to do more often?
FREEMAN: I always like variety in work. I was on TV for five years, in a children’s show, and I was terrified. I actually did it for two years, and then three more years, and I hated it because I was terrified of being locked on television, as somebody like Captain Kangaroo. I did not want to be Fred Rogers. That’s not me, at all. But you have a job and quitting a job when you don’t have another job is stupid, so I didn’t. As luck would have it, the show closed and I was free. The first break-out movie I did was called Street Smart, and I played a heavier pimp. I can’t tell you how many scripts I got, after that, to play that same character. Gravitas came along and, suddenly, it was Morgan and gravitas and I was like, “Can’t I do something else?!” So, I did Last Vegas and Going in Style. I love it! There’s not much of a challenge to it. It’s just fun to do.
Was there much improvisation going on, on a film like this?
FREEMAN: No, there was none. We had one guy who was good at improv, George Wallace, but George is a stand-up, so stuff comes out of him. It was like, “George, please shut up, will you?!”
This character is a guy who’s so charming that you don’t really think about what he’s doing to con you because you actually really like him. He’s a scammer, but he makes people happy.
FREEMAN: You should like him! He strives for love. He needs to be liked. He’s reinvented himself, down here with these people. It’s all about love, and all about partying and doing some good for each other.
Were there challenges to finding the right tone with this guy, or is he so charming that it doesn’t matter what he’s doing?
FREEMAN: It does matter what he’s doing, but what he’s doing is in the interest of his clientele and in the interest of the people that he’s taking care of, so to speak. It turns out that this place is actually owned and run by a corporation. He just manages this one outlet. It’s just business for them, but for him, it’s about fun. That’s how Rene gets into the mix.
Could you ever have imagined a world where you would be singing “Silent Night” as a lullaby to Tommy Lee Jones?
FREEMAN: That’s an interesting question. One of the things I know is that, in the movies, anything is possible. That’s one of those moments. I forgot that’s what we did.
How was it to shoot with Tommy Lee Jones?
FREEMAN: Tommy is so good. He’s a natural. There’s nothing to it. It’s not even work. When you get into it with someone who’s been there as long as you’ve been there, and who’s done as good or better work than you’ve done, that’s what you live for. That’s what it’s all about.
This is the first time you guys had worked together.
FREEMAN: Yeah, but I know all of his dance steps.
Had you ever tried to find something to work on together, prior to this?
FREEMAN: No, that’s not what you do. You sit back and hope. If something drops into your lap and you can say, “I know who it would be good to play this with,” then you reach out. Otherwise, you’re just a part of the mix. When they say, “We would like you to play this part and we’ve got so-and-so to play the other part,” then you can go, “Fabulous!” I remember when we were gonna do The Bucket List, Rob Reiner sent me the script and said, “Would you do this and play this part?” I said, “Yeah, but only if Jack Nicholson plays the other part.” So, they reached out to Jack and he said, “Yeah.”
Is there anyone you’d still really like to work with?
FREEMAN: There are tons of people, but mostly women. I’ve worked with a lot of men. There aren’t that many that I haven’t had a shot at. I’d love to work with Meryl Streep. Of course, there are a lot of actors that I haven’t worked with that I would jump at the opportunity to do so.
Would you want to do a comedy with Meryl Streep?
FREEMAN: A comedy or anything else, I don’t care. Whatever it is, I would do it.
You and Rene Russo were both in Outbreak, but you actually get to spend time with her in this. What sort of energy does she bring to the set and what do you enjoy about working with her?
FREEMAN: Come on, she’s Rene! She’s really extraordinary. She’s a terrific actress, who does it all. It just seems to come easy for her. She says it’s not, but I can tell.
At this point in your career, what gets you excited about a project and character, and what makes you go, “You know, this is just not for me”?
FREEMAN: I’ve had a few scripts recently that were just pure downers, and I just don’t wanna [do that]. If you’ve got something on the lighter side or on the positive side, I’d love to do it. I don’t want to play a bad guy, unless he’s a very interesting bad guy. This is a secret between you and me, but I’m thinking more and more about producing and directing.
What is it about directing that interests you?
FREEMAN: I like to be in control. It’s fun to work with both sides of the camera, working with the actors and the crew and making the decisions. You don’t really make the decisions by yourself. It’s like being the captain of a ship. You’ve got people that know exactly what their job is, so you don’t have to go around telling them. You can just sit back and let it happen. What I learned from Clint [Eastwood] is to control the set. Keep it quiet, keep it energized, don’t get into situations where there’s tension, don’t let it get too noisy, and move it along. Actors like to move. Some actors don’t. Meryl Streep likes repeats. She likes to do it again and again. She worked with Clint on The Bridges of Madison County. Clint likes to do two or three takes, at the most, but Meryl wanted to do more.
Just Getting Started is now playing in theaters.