Thu, Oct 04, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Forever Freeman

He may be a late bloomer, but Morgan Freeman gets all the best parts: God, the president, a jailbird, a gumshoe. John Patterson meets him

By John Patterson  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman appear in Evan Almighty.

Oh yes, he's dignified. Morgan Freeman seems long, slender, impossibly serpentine - and anything but 70 - as he uncurls himself from the sofa where he's giving interviews. Dressed in elegant tailored slacks and matching black shirt, he rises to his full height, which is considerable, and greets me warmly with a strong handshake and a "How ya doin'?" Even the most banal conversational gambit sounds like mood music when purred in that warm and smoky baritone.

I feel as if I'm meeting the Pope. The mind races for a moment or two. Morgan Freeman! God! President Deep Impact! John Milton! Clint's Mate! Called his Oscar "a doorstop"! But as Freeman invites me to sit, patting the sofa next to him with that down-home courtliness redolent of the deep south, the mist fades and he's a terrestrial being again.

The face is in close-up now, as it so often is in his movies, though in person Freeman seems much younger. Through films as diverse as The Shawshank Redemption, Glory, Amistad and Seven, the world's great cameramen have traversed this subtly shifting, always compelling facial landscape. Viewers of Freeman's work may feel they know every last mole and freckle around his watery, dolorous eyes. The camera and the microphone like to get in close with Freeman, to savor that voice and ponder that face, which can bear close-ups of merciless duration. Intimacy is one of his greatest strengths, central to the trustworthiness, authority and dignity that we often associate with his name. And it works pretty well for interviews, too.

Freeman wants to discuss Feast of Love, an ensemble drama directed by Robert Benton about the impact of love, the loss of love, divorce, adultery and grief on a group of interconnected characters revolving around Freeman's college professor. At first, the structure feels a little unwieldy - eight people falling in and out of love with one another with a regularity and rhythm that suggests a highly intricate minuet of changing partners and positions - but the result is surprisingly satisfying and emotionally affecting.

There were ladies sniffling by the elevator after the screening, I tell him. A couple of fellas, too. "Oh, yeah," he smiles, evidently pleased to hear it. "It works its magic on you in the end, doesn't it?"

Freeman was lured by the chance to work with Greg Kinnear, who has a history of playing interesting weak men but makes each one compellingly different and who here seems doomed haplessly to alienate or lose every woman who matters to him.

"The thing about Greg is that, yes, he gives great 'wimp,' but he always brings his own intelligence to each part. His husband and father in Little Miss Sunshine has one or two things in common with Bradley in Feast of Love, but the performances he gives are all very different, very subtly different."

He also liked the idea of playing half of an enduring marriage, something he says isn't often seen on screen, and even then rarely done right. He's always been an admirer of his onscreen wife in Feast of Love, Jane Alexander, whom he remembers from back in 1970, when she played the white wife of 1920s black boxer Jack Johnson in The Great White Hope. "Matter of fact, the role she played that really sticks in my mind is an old TV movie she made, when she played Calamity Jane, and not in a Betty Hutton kind of way either - but rough, masculine, a lot like the way that character was done in Deadwood."

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