Recently, entertainment site The Wrap asked Morgan Freeman if he was atheist or agnostic.
He said it was hard to answer because he believes humanity “invented God”. “So if I believe in God,” he said, “and I do, it’s because I think I’m God.”
This is extremely convenient for the purposes of this interview. I don’t have a god, no supernatural being to pray or sacrifice to, so I’ve come to Freeman, the next best thing, for advice. He’s clearly qualified.
Freeman’s not really a god, at least that hasn’t been proven, but he has played the biblical version and he’s got a white beard. In fact, he’s Hollywood’s ‘go to’ guy for all sage types: your wizards, your academics, your Islamic wise men, your Mandelas. In his latest film, Lucy, Luc Besson’s somewhat mental take on what could happen if humans (in this case Scarlett Johansson) used more than 10 per cent of their brains, he plays a Sorbonne professor. They say that, with every wise utterance, Morgan Freeman gains a freckle. He’s got a lot of freckles. He must be super clever. But I’m not after the big, godly answers: the meaning of life, why anyone would create intelligent beings that brutally annihilate each other, favourite Spice Girl.
I’m after general life wisdom; practical, comforting pointers on being a man, being me. I begin, selfishly, with how to cope with the mental turmoil of my 40th birthday, currently hurtling towards me like a nuke.
So, Morgan, at the age of 77, how do you remain so youthful?
He leans towards me.
“Pussy,” he whispers.
How do I react? Morgan Freeman just said the P-word. It’s like hearing your nan say f*ck.
But he has just said it – and probably not with reference to fluffy kittens. I ask for clarification.
“If you can get enough of it, it keeps you young. It’s all about your attitude towards you, isn’t it? So if you’ve got enough of the opposite sex telling you you’re sexy, and proving it to you, you’re never old.”
OK, but making that actually happen isn’t easy. Finding a good woman is tough. Finding any woman is tough. Finding your keys can be tough.
“I really think the secret is don’t chase them,” Freeman continues. “They’ll come to you. And when they’re coming to you, you’re going to say: ‘OK. Cute.’ Don’t try to get noticed. If you’ve got to work to make them aware of you, it’s probably a mistake. You go into a bar and walk up to a woman and say, ‘Haven’t we met before?’ or some sh*t like that and she looks at you like that…”
Cue disgusted face from Freeman. If he was God, it’d be a great face to pull at the pearly gates. A face that says, “You ain’t getting in here.” Which is precisely the message conveyed by the female character he’s now portraying.
SAGE ABOUT AGE
I imagine that playing it cool and having women come to you is a lot easier if you’re Morgan Freeman, but still, noted. Getting action isn’t my key concern, though. I’m more worried about everything going downhill: my body, my mind, my prospects, my wheelchair.
“You have nothing to fear,” says the Supreme Voice. “I thought, when I was in my fifties, that I was in my prime. Life was going along on a smooth sea with a brisk wind at my back. My forties were exciting because my career was moving ahead with really terrific things going on, so it would seem that you are just headed into the best part of life.”
There’s not going to be some terrible physical or emotional collapse?
“That’s going to be up to you.”
Let’s call it an even chance, then.
Again, one suspects Freeman is at an advantage here. He didn’t get his Oscar-nominated breakthrough role in Street Smart until he was 50. Driving Miss Daisy came along two years later and it was two more years before he played Kevin Costner’s (extremely wise) Muslim pal Azeem in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. By the time he took the World’s Number One Narrator title (still undefeated) by drawling the tale of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, he was 57. In terms of career peaks, he’s the Anti-Culkin.
Moving on from the deathly trickle of my mortal hourglass, I decide to gain enlightenment on things that matter even when not experiencing a premature mid-life crisis.
Man stuff, like what ‘maketh’ one of us. It’s a simple adage-based multiple choice question: clothes or manners?
“Manners,” says Freeman, without hesitation. “Clothes aren’t doing anything. Nice guys finish top, bad guys finish last. I was raised by a village. And when you’re raised by a village, there’s no place to hide for a bad guy. You know that when mama walks in, she’s going to know everything you did today. And I was never good at lying.”
Yet you’re an actor, which is all about lying, right? “The best actors don’t lie. The best actors, they give you the deepest truth.”
Amen to that. I’ll literally believe anything that comes from this man’s mouth. Yeah, even that. The pearls of freckle-making wisdom keep flowing. Freeman’s brain must run at more than 10 per cent. A man whose passions include flying and sailing, he tells me how travel is essential to a rounded individual. He recommends playing golf, claiming it to be the best metaphor for life (“a very demanding game that you’ll never master”). Family, he says, is the most important thing you’ll ever have in your life, referencing a TV programme called Leave It To Beaver.
I don’t know it, but considering his earlier animal utterance, I decide it’s best to remain ignorant.
I list my many anxieties. The usual stuff, I think: family, friends, relationships, money, work, what people think of me, what I think of them, my health, the plight of homeless animals, the end of civilisation, accidentally spitting if I ever spoke to Scarlett Johansson. This stuff can weigh on a man but not, it seems, on Freeman. He oozes calm, offers an aura of Diazepam.
“I’m not a worrier,” says Freeman. “You say I’m kind of youthful. Well, it’s because I don’t stress. If you want to age, let sh*t stress you out. I came to this conclusion some time back: if I can do something about it, then it behooves me to get off my duff and go do it. If I can’t do anything about it, I don’t need to think about it. I don’t stop at accidents, for example. If I can help, fine. But if I’m just going to be in the way, I keep going.”
I admire his use of the words ‘behooves’ and ‘duff’. Then I admire his attitude. I finish by asking him to act like he’s omnipresent – or at least like he’s travelled a lot, which he has, so it’s easy.
I want to know the single most eye-opening sight he’s ever witnessed on Earth.
“I think it was in 1983,” he says. “I visited the Vatican. I stood in the Basilica, St Peter’s. I saw the Pietà, one of the most incredible pieces of sculpture you’ll ever see. And I walked that long hallway in St Peter’s. And I went to the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s rendition of God. But in that whole hallway – and it is long – I saw that it was full of loot. Full of stuff taken from poor countries. That was like, ‘Wow, let me out of here.’”
Suddenly, the room fills with light. Freeman’s eyes shine gold and he begins to levitate, his grey suit turning into a bright white robe.
A chorus of angels hums (Everything I Do) I Do It For You by Bryan Adams.
“Andy,” he says to me, just like in Shawshank, “I must leave you now – your 20 minutes are up – but take my words and share them with the world.” And with that he disappears.
OK, this isn’t exactly how the interview ends, but if the Bible can get away with it…
Lucy is at cinemas nationwide from 22 August