The man with world’s most reassuring voice - currently starring with Scarlett Johansson in techno thriller Lucy - exercises his superpower on Time Out
Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman has made a career out of playing the voice of oracular wisdom. He has appeared as a cop, a judge, a scientist, several doctors, Nelson Mandela, the President of the United States, Batman’s business manager, and God (twice). His on-screen imperturbability has become legend. On a 2012 episode of South Park, Freeman shows up to give everyone good advice; when Stan questions him about it, the actor replies that he get a new freckle every time he explains something complicated.
His latest role, in the action film Lucy directed by Luc Besson and starring Scarlett Johansson, Freeman plays a neurologist who agrees to help a young woman with superhuman abilities caused by a drug that unlocks higher brain function. Besson claims he wanted Freeman for the role because the actor showed a good understanding of the film’s subject matter; the film’s producer, Virginie Besson-Silla (Besson’s wife), had her own reasons: “Morgan is one of the only people who could play God.”
Freeman’s theory on why he keeps landing the wise-old-man role is probably closer to the truth. “I’m accepted as a very good actor,” he says. We’re on the 39th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, where Freeman has just finished telling 14 journalists that despite his reputation for playing erudite characters, he regularly turns down speaking engagements on account of the fact that he’s not very good at it – he’s just good at pretending to be.
“I’m attracted to story first,” he says, when asked how he chooses his roles. “If these wise men with gravitas fit into the story well, and I can see myself playing these characters, then I’m drawn in.”
Yet there is undeniably something sagely about Freeman himself. He is friendly, patient and charismatic. He likes a good joke (“Sex” is his reply when a journalist asks how he keeps himself mentally fit) and transitions effortlessly from talking about the poetry of Maya Angelou to the hunting behaviour of birds. He says if he had a superpower, apropos Johansson’s character in Lucy, he’d eliminate every weapon of destruction on the planet. “So if you and I ever got into it, we’d have to use sticks and rocks.”
He doesn’t mind being typecast; in fact, he’s first in line to take the piss. Earlier this year, Freeman voiced a parody of himself in The LEGO Movie, a wizard called Vitruvius. In one of the film’s trailers, which was presented as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of, Vitruvius says of Freeman: “That man could read the phonebook and make it sound interesting.”
“If you’re not laughing at yourself,” Freeman says, “someone is laughing at you.”
Lucy opens Thu Aug 28.