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Jon Steely

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15 Minutes With Morgan Freeman

Posted: 08/22/2013 4:44 pm

My head is pounding, and my mind is twisted in a knot that's about to snap. I've overcommitted, signed on for too many writing assignments. I'm working on an article based on an interview I did with movie star Heather Graham, and have also agreed to write promotional pieces for a new ABC sitcom and an upcoming feature film distributed by The Weinstein Company. There are deadlines. I'm running out of time, and words. I've also promised a friend I'd write him a letter of recommendation. What a pain in the ass.

A recent string of bad luck -- and some bad decisions -- blindsided me. Personal stuff. I'd tell you over dinner and drinks, but not here. Friends are recommending cognitive therapy and vipassana meditation. They're probably right, but who has the time?

I'm in line at Trader Joe's in Santa Monica. I have 13 items in a "12 Items or Less" express line. I miscounted. It was an accident. Someone behind me mutters, "one too many." I pretend not to hear. I imagine an angry mob forming. I wish I were trained in mixed martial arts. I look down at my cell phone -- my go-to place for all instances of social discomfort -- and see that a new email has arrived. It's from a Hollywood publicity agency, and the subject line reads: MORGAN FREEMAN. They're asking if I want to interview him for the Blu-ray and DVD release of his magic show/bank robbery thriller Now You See Me. I'm booked solid. I don't have the time. I immediately respond with a "yes." There's no other choice. Morgan Freeman is one of the world's most respected film actors. He's as cool as it gets, and as big as it gets. Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption,Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Seven, Invictus, The Dark Night trilogy. Who am I to say, "No?"

I commit to the Morgan Freeman interview, and my life instantly improves.

I find $40 in the street outside of Trader Joe's. I get a text from a spectacular woman I went to high school with. She wants to meet at a wine bar in Venice. (Our own private high school reunion.) A call comes in from a fabulous psychotic from my past, a thrill-a-minute, Joan Jett look-alike now running a modeling agency in Texas. "You're the only one who ever understood me," she says. I really enjoy this call, though I never really understood her. My bank informs me they've made a mistake. They credit $228.52 to my checking account.

A beautiful young woman in a Kia drives by. We smile at each other. She honks her horn. Suddenly, my headache is gone. I have the strength of 10 grinches, plus two. I can do anything. I'm convinced that Morgan Freeman is my good luck charm, and that his greatness has somehow rubbed off on me. I'm on a roll, riding a wave. Give me 10 more writing assignments. I'll do them all.

I wonder if I have bipolar disorder?

I arrive home to a copy of Now You See Me on my doorstep. How'd they get it here so fast? I love show business! Word gets out that I'm interviewing Morgan Freeman. A flood of texts come in. "I want him to be my mentor!" "I'm so jealous!" "He's an acting God!" "He's an icon!" "Holy shit!" I've been interviewing celebrities for years. There's never been a reaction like this.

I watch Now You See Me. It's a slick and stylish blend of magic tricks, bank robberies, plot twists and FBI chases. Bank robbing illusionists who shower their audience with stolen cash at their live magic shows -- and the cops who pursue them. Rapidly-moving and fun, Now You See Me dazzles you with magic tricks and magical performances by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, (James' brother) Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, and Melanie Laurent. Morgan Freeman's powerful screen charisma is in fine form, portraying an ex-illusionist who's made millions explaining the secrets behind famous magicians' tricks.

On the day I interview Morgan Freeman, I'm sick as a dog. Trembling with fever. Throat burning and ears screaming. Hacking like Charles Bukowski. I start talking with Freeman, and everything clears up.

"It's a very interesting script, very interesting idea, very interesting story," Freeman says, when I ask why he was attracted to Now You See Me. "The director, Louis Leterrier, was someone I had worked with before, in Europe, a few years back. I like him a lot. And it has this magnificent cast, so what's not to like? I had a great time with it. I worked primarily with Melanie Laurent, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Caine. I was working with people I really like and admire a lot, so it was great."

What does Morgan Freeman want you to get from watching Now You See Me?

"I never want an audience to get anything but entertained," Freeman says. "That's what they paid for. I don't want them to want their money back."

I ask Morgan Freeman what is important to him?

"The planet, the planet, the planet," he replies. "I won't be here to see its demise, but we can really screw up the environment, which is what we are doing by overloading it with carbon dioxide. That's my concern. And the fact that we are turning everything on the planet into food for humans. There are over seven billion people on the planet right now and in the next 15 to 18 years, they'll have another billion. We cannot eliminate all other forms of life and continue to exist. We're acting like parasites. We're consuming our host. Don't get me started."

What does Morgan Freeman enjoy?

"I play golf a lot," Freeman says. "I used to enjoy sailing and flying. I can't do those anymore, but those were my real passions, particularly sailing. I have a sailboat tied up down in the Caribbean. Right now, I'm in pre-production to do a picture with Diane Keaton. It's a human interest story. It's the story of a couple who have an apartment downtown. The wife's niece is in real estate, and she tries to talk them into selling it. So, the whole picture is about this couple trying to find out if there's another place they could buy that would be equal to the one they have. But since they're getting older, they want an elevator!"

What advice does Morgan Freeman have for aspiring actors?

"The surest way to fail is to quit. If you want to succeed, just don't give up. That's the only advice I ever give anybody."

I let Morgan Freeman know that as soon as I accepted the offer to interview him, my life changed for the better. I tell him I'm convinced he's my good luck charm.

Freeman laughs. A warm, bellowing laugh. I recognize it from the movies.

In the most unprofessional moment of my writing career, I playfully ask Morgan Freeman if I can talk with him on a weekly basis, just to keep my good luck streak going?

Freeman laughs again -- a little louder this time -- and says, "It will probably stay with you."


Now You See Me will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 3.

 
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