Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman joins Tom Cruise in Oblivion, a visionary, action-packed sci-fi thriller directed by Joseph Kosinski opening in theaters this Friday. Freeman plays Beech, the morally ambiguous leader of a mysterious band of survivors that continue to inhabit Earth six decades after an alien invasion irradiates the planet. Beech suspects Jack (Cruise), a daredevil pilot serving as the last drone repairman stationed on the planet, may hold the key to saving the remaining people of Earth.
At the film’s recent press day, Freeman revealed that the main reason he wanted to be a part of the project was to work with Cruise and that he felt sci-fi was the perfect genre for them to be involved in together. He was also drawn to the film’s awesome technology, the love theme that’s central to the story, and the fact that he got to fire a dual .50-caliber machine gun which he’s never done before. Freeman also discussed what it’s like working with older directors like Clint Eastwood and Rob Reiner compared to younger ones like Kosinski and Christopher Nolan and how he disagrees with Humphrey Bogart and feels he owes the public a little bit more than just a good performance. Hit the jump to read more.
Morgan Freeman: Tom Cruise. I mean, it’s a Tom Cruise movie. So, if I was going to be a truck driver hauling supplies, I would have taken the job. I’m one of his huge fans. I have been for I don’t know how many years, way, way back. I know, at this point, I’m not going to be offered a minor role. If you compare the script to the movie, they don’t compare, but I was excited by the script. The movie is so much more than what you can read on the page. It’s a big draw. It’s a big science fiction film with Tom Cruise. It’s hard to go wrong.
Joseph Kosinski said that you and Tom had wanted to make a movie together for some time.
Freeman: Some time.
What took so long? Was it a case of scheduling or looking for the right story or maybe a combination of both?
Freeman: When we say we want to work together and we’re looking for something to do, that’s not an active thing. If that were the case, I would have been in Mission Impossible 1, 2 or 3. But when the right project comes along, there’s sort of a domino effect. Everything falls into place. I think this was the perfect genre for me to be involved with Tom in, so I no longer resent not having done anything with him before.
Tom tells a story about meeting you for the first time at the 1990 Oscars when you were both nominated. Did you follow him over time and what were your impressions of him?
Freeman: The first time I saw him was Risky Business. He was awesome. When his parents walked out of the house, and he slid into frame in his jockeys and did that whole thing, it was like, “This kid is awesome!” I don’t know if there is anything that he has done that I haven’t seen and appreciated since then. I shouldn’t say since then because I’ve seen stuff that he’d done way before then. He did this fairy tale movie, Legend. He’s just born to do this.
Freeman: Everybody works the same, but the preparation very often may be different. You cannot work differently. You have to say the words that were written on the page, and you have to make your marks. That’s the work.
I felt this film said something positive about humanity in the genuine sci-fi tradition. Without giving anything away, can you talk a little bit about that?
Freeman: No. (laughs) I mean, if I talk about it, I’m going to give something away, aren’t I? But, I will give it a shot. I will try. One of the themes that is stand out in this film is the love story. It’s not like one we’ve seen before. And then, there’s the awesome technology. That Bubbleship can be remotely controlled. Remember the point where there’s the emergency return to base? It’s like, “Oh, really?” I agree with you that this is one, unlike many we’ve seen, maybe any we’ve seen prior, that’s very intelligent and extremely creative. Joseph designed these doggone toys. Awesome. I mean, those drones are things you can’t believe, but there they are, believable.
When you first read the script, what aspect of your character appealed to you the most and why?
Freeman: When I first read it, they talk about the mysteriousness of this group that at the outset you don’t see. They’re there, but you don’t see them. And then, when they are finally revealed, they’re the good guys, and I’m their leader.
In Olympus Has Fallen, Gerard Butler did all the dirty work and you played an authoritative figure. And here, you got to play with a machine gun. What was that experience like and was that your decision?
Freeman: No, I don’t make decisions like that. No, that’s written in that he gets up there and manages the machine gun. How these things work out is strictly the writer’s thing. It’s not the director. It’s not the actor. It’s strictly the writer. It was fun. There are dual 50-calibers on that tractor, and I’d never fired a 50-caliber machine gun before.
Your character’s costume is one of the more distinctive costumes you’ve worn. Do you have any impact on how your character is dressed? How much of it is a challenge and how much of it is an asset to your performance?
Freeman: Costume is always an asset. Normal costume you have a lot to say about — if you’re wearing suits or ties, and what color you want, and how it’s going to be cut, and stuff like that, and whether or not you’re going to wear a hat, and blah, blah, blah. But, when you’re wearing a special costume, and of course, costume is probably the second ingredient in character, script being first, I always find that the costume does a lot to cement your character, to put it firmly in mind. With this costume, I remember going for the fitting. It took maybe a half hour to get into it. But then, I looked at it, and I walked all over the office showing it off, and it was, shall we say, instructive.
You look very good in a cape. You should do it more often.
Freeman: Thank you very much. Maybe I’ll just buy myself one and wear it.
If you were to build your own version of a future Earth, what would that be like?
Freeman: We would all live in trees. We would all hunt for our food. We would walk wherever we went. The planet would be rejuvenated. We wouldn’t be killing off all the animals just to feed us. I would change it like that.
You’re on an action set with things blowing up around you. You’ve been doing this for so long. Is this just another day at the office for you or do you enjoy doing this every single day?
Freeman: I enjoy it every single day. I’m born to do this, too. I really do. I enjoy it every single day. It’s not like I have to get up every morning, Monday through Friday, and go to a job. You do a movie. However long it lasts, it begins and it ends in a relatively short period of time. In a given period of time, let’s say a year, you can have three, four, or five different experiences which is exciting.
I saw you on the red carpet recently and there were hundreds of people there screaming your name. You went, you shook hands, and you took pictures. Is that still exciting for you and do you enjoy spending time with the public?
Freeman: I used to watch Jack Paar. Do you know who Jack Paar was? Jack Paar was a Tonight Show host before Johnny Carson. One night, one of my movie heroes, Humphrey Bogart, was on Jack Paar, and Humphrey was asked a similar question about pictures and autographs and the public. Bogart said, “I don’t owe the public anything but a good performance.” And I tried to take that to heart, but not quite so… Somebody once told me, “No, no. You belong to us. You’re in the public.” So, you can’t quite get away from it. I don’t do autographs. They’re a waste of time, but photographs stay. Touching someone’s hand, hugging a beautiful lady, all of that works out very well. I wanted to adopt Humphrey Bogart’s dictum, but it doesn’t work for me. I think I owe the public a little bit more than just a good performance. I owe them just a little bit of time…if I’m cornered. (laughs)
You’ve had the opportunity to work with a couple different generations of directors. How do guys like Joseph Kosinski and Christopher Nolan compare to some of the older guys like Clint Eastwood or Rob Reiner in terms of their approach to filmmaking?
Freeman: The two older directors that you mentioned happen to have a couple of things in common, speed being one of them. I like speed. Younger directors don’t seem to embrace that so much. As they get older and more secure with what they’re doing, they do develop this lack of a need to spend more time shooting more film or whatever. You kind of know when you’ve got it. Nowadays, you may not know when you’ve got it. With some of the younger directors, if you’ve only done two or three movies, you don’t want to go back to post and have your editor say, “Why did we do this or that?” It’s a CYA type thing. I mean, I give them credit for that.
South Park has poked fun at the fact that you have often popped up in movies to deliver exposition and explain the plot to people. Is that something that you embrace or…?
Freeman: That’s the way shit worked out.
What is it that you look for in scripts these days? What excites you as an actor?
Freeman: I don’t know. It’s different things. I can’t say. If you sat down and you wrote a script, you may write something that’s way beyond what you’ve ever seen me do, but if you thought of me to do it, I would be flattered to be asked to do something other than be wise.