Morgan Freeman: Million Dollar Baby Interview

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Three-time Academy Award-nominee Morgan Freeman (for The Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy and Street Smart) needs little in the way of introduction.

The accomplished actor was born in Memphis on June 1, 1937, and has made 50+ films over the course of his high profile career. In the late seventies, he appeared in screen adaptations of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, parlaying attention generated by those lesser roles into work in big-budget Hollywood productions like Brubaker, Lean on Me, Glory, Unforgiven, Outbreak, Seven, Kiss the Girls, Amistad, Deep Impact, Along Came a Spider, Bruce Almighty and The Big Bounce. And he already has his next ten pictures in various stages of production, including Batman Begins (with Christian Bale, Katie Holmes and Michael Caine), An Unfinished Life (with J-Lo and Robert Redford), Edison (with Justin Timberlake, LL Cool J and Kevin Spacey) and Long Walk to Freedom, a bio-pic where he'll star as Nelson Mandela. Morgan is up for a Golden Globe for his latest performance as Eddie 'Scrap Iron' Dupris in Million Dollar Baby, where as the film's one-eyed narrator, he plays an ex-boxer-turned-janitor-turned-ring trainer-turned-philosopher, wise beyond his lowly station in life. Here, he talks about that role which is generating some Oscar buzz, too.

BSN: What about the script that made you decide to do this movie?
MF: "A good script is an overall. It's not just a character, or the story or the location. It's everything. This was one of those. You notice that I don't have to deal with a whole lot of people, primarily Scrap, and Frankie, and Maggie, and Danger. Scripts like that don't come down the pike in large numbers, and they will go to someone other than you, if you don't move quickly. So, it's like trying to reach out and grab a fast train."

BSN: Are you a fight fan?
MF: "I'm a fan, but not a fanatic. I don't know who the current champions are, for instance. I like watching it, but I don't quite know why anybody would want to do it."

BSN: Do you think boxing builds character?
MF: "I can see that a lot of young men who have a tendency towards violence do find meaning in life through that sport."

BSN: What type of training and research did you do for this role as an ex-boxer who has been around the fight game all his life?
MF: [Sarcastically] "I went out and broke my hands. No, I didn't have to train to be a fighter, because I wasn't going to have to fight. Everybody has his or her own way of working. You don't have to do research. All I had to do was learn the lines and watch out for the furniture."

BSN: Is that how you were trained as an actor?
MF: "I wasn't trained as an actor. I went to acting school. I flunked."

BSN: How did you manage to persevere and become a great actor in spite of that?
MF: "I didn't think because I was flunking that I couldn't act. I thought that I was flunking because I didn't know what they wanted. Things come naturally to me, though they don't overlay easily. In the acting class community, I found myself doing scene work so far removed from my own life experiences that I was never going to get it. Othello? No. Give me something basic."

BSN: Then how did you learn how to act?
MF: "You learn how to write by reading, don't you? Don't you? Say, 'yes.'"

BSN: "Yes."
MF: "Well, you learn how to act by watching actors."

BSN: Since you and [director and co-star] Clint Eastwood were friends and already well-acquainted with each other, was making this movie together in any way similar to jazz musicians improvising?
MF: "I know what you're saying, but it doesn't work out quite like that. In a manner of speaking, it is like jazz, like a riff. You don't know what the other guy's going to do. You know he's going to stay within the parameters of the script, but the joy is in listening and then responding to what you hear, not to what you expect. Isn't that clever? Doesn't that sound good? Sometimes I amaze myself."

BSN: So, what is it like working with Clint as a director?
MF: "Clint doesn't work with actors. Clint directs the movie. You're the actor. That's your job. Do you know what I mean? He's very hands off. I'd like to be on a set sometime when an actor came on board and didn't know what he was doing. I'd like to hear what Clint would have to say to him. He's very helpful and forthcoming, but he usually gets good people and just stays out of the way. He sets the scene up, lights it, explains the parameters of the technical aspects, but you're not going to get direction. A long time ago [director] Mike Nichols said, 'The essence of directing is casting.'"

BSN: I know you're a pilot now. How are you enjoying flying?
MF: "I'm being censured by the FAA. They're going to ground me because of an incident that happened when I was flying into Teterboro [New Jersey] on a very busy day. I was at 3,000 feet, having coming down from 21,000 feet. Looking at the approach plates, I thought I was supposed to be at 2,000 feet, so I descended to that altitude on my own. But you don't go to certain altitudes till you're told. The control tower said, 'What are you doing? You weren't cleared to 2,000 feet. Go back up! Go back up! Go back up!' The air traffic controller might let you get away with it, but if you alter your altitude by more than 500 feet, the computer takes note of the infraction automatically. So, three months later I got the letter."

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