Morgan Freeman is a cool cat—on screen, and off. Over the course of his highly decorated career, the now 76-year-old star of films like Glory, The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, and the Batman trilogy has been nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Million Dollar Baby. He’s also a very fun interview subject who always shoots from the hip.
During his last press tour for the summer hit Now You See Me, Freeman famously dozed off during a TV interview. His response? “I wasn't actually sleeping. I'm a beta tester for Google Eyelids. I was merely updating my Facebook page.” Brilliant. During the same promotional tour, he appeared on HLN and read the morning news—including the definition of “twerking.” The Internet went nuts.
Freeman’s latest film is the comedy Last Vegas. It centers on “The Flatbush Four”—a group of close childhood friends from Brooklyn who are now in their late sixties. When the gang’s de facto leader, Billy (Michael Douglas), announces he’s marrying his 32-year-old “child bride,” the rest of the crew—Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman), and Sam (Kevin Kline)—decide to throw him a rowdy bachelor party in Vegas.
The Daily Beast spoke with the freewheeling Freeman about a wide variety of topics ranging from Tea Party madness to, well, “twerking.”
The last time we spoke was for The Dark Knight Rises, and we talked a bit about you first coming up as a dancer in New York City and San Francisco. And you get to show off some dance moves in Last Vegas.
Me? [Laughs] Geez, all through the ’40s I was a kid and did the Jitterbug, and then in the ’50s when I was in high school I did the Lindy Hop, which was the big thing, and moving on through, there was the Twist, the Hucklebuck, and you pick it all up as you go along.
If you’re at a party, is there one special move that you’ll bust out?
The Lindy Hop, man. I can do the Lindy.
Speaking of dances, there was this great video clip of you that went viral where you were reading the news on HLN and described “twerking.” What do you think of it?
Yes, I’m aware of what it is. I think it’s a little bizarre, to tell you the truth!
Another thing we spoke about last time was the craziness of the Tea Party, which reared its ugly head again with the recent government shutdown.
The lengths that people will go to to show their prejudices! You see some of these signs that say, “TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!” What the fuck is that? Whose country are you talking about? They are being pushed to the side, which is a good thing for them to realize: you don’t have the power you think you have in this country. Obama was legitimately elected president. If you don’t like that, fine, either move out, or make your point and get yourself elected, but don’t tear the country apart! That’s not going to get you anywhere. I think the Republicans have pretty much destroyed themselves by allowing themselves to be controlled by a small contingent of people with a lot of money.
The Koch Brothers and company?
Yes. And the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world. All those … strange people.
On a lighter note, there’s a posse in this movie, “The Flatbush Four.” Do you have a posse of guys you hang out with in real life?
I have golfing buddies, yeah. We don’t have a name for ourselves. [Laughs] But they’re friends that I golf with regularly back home in Mississippi, and they’re mostly farmers. One’s a lawyer, one’s a doctor, and three or four of them are farmers.
Last Vegas, of course, takes place in Vegas. Do you have a wild Vegas story?
No I don’t, actually! I’m not the Vegas type, really. I’m not a gambler, not a hanger-outer. When I was there, I went to Cirque du Soleil, went to see Barbra Streisand, and I went to see Elton John. That was about all the going-out I did! Other than that, all I did in Vegas was play golf.
What was your favorite story from filming Last Vegas?
Well, speaking for myself, I felt special to be included with three really outstanding men. But one of the most fun times making this movie was when we were judging the bikini contest. There was a lot of eye candy there. And we were all experiencing it big-time. We shot it over two days.
So two whole days of you four just sitting there in chairs looking at women in bikinis? Sounds like a tough gig.
Listen … trust me. It’s not … bad … duty.
One of the messages of Last Vegas is that age is only a number, and you’ve got to stay young at heart and enjoy the time you’ve got. How do you stay young at heart?
Hang with young women. [Laughs] I’m telling you, it works. But it’s also about keeping yourself fit—keep moving, keep exercising. And also, you’ve got to have reasons to get up. If you have work that you like doing, and those of us in acting have work we like doing, you can go on for a long time.
We’ve spoken in the past about how you’re a big fan of Ben Affleck’s and had a great time working with him on The Sum of All Fears. And you also, of course, played Lucius Fox in Nolan’s Batman films. What are your thoughts on him playing Batman?
Listen: Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale have played it. It’s a franchise! It’ll stand on its own merits, and you can’t really say anything until he’s done it. The pre-judging was strange. Give him a shot!
Your voice is so distinctive, and you do narrate a lot of documentaries now. Was there ever a moment when you realized that you had an impactful voice?
Well, there was never a moment that I realized it, but after Shawshank Redemption, people started talking about my narration of that movie, and then, after narrating March of the Penguins, people starting talking about my impactful voice. It’s just luck of the draw, on my part! And coming up as a stage actor, you develop a strong voice. I spent 20 years on the stage, which helped a lot. And when I was doing The Electric Company, we had to do the announcement, “The E-lec-tric Com-pa-ny is brought to you by the Chil-dren’s Tel-e-vi-sion Work-shop.” You’d hear yourself in good earphones and start adjusting things so you sound better and better to yourself.
The PBS TV series African American Lives revealed that some of your great-great-grandparents were slaves.
I’m pretty sure that on my father’s side there were, somewhere down the line. On my mother’s side, my grandfather’s family came from Liberia.
One of the best films of the year, in my opinion, is 12 Years a Slave. Have you seen it?
I saw a television movie that was made a few years ago about the same character [Solomon Northup]. But I don’t particularly want to see it. I don’t want my anger quotient exacerbated, you know? Things are bad enough as they are. I don’t want to keep punching myself in the face with it.
I know that you’re a big proponent of gay rights, and I spoke with Lee Daniels recently who told me it is “The Civil Rights Movement of our time.”
Oh, absolutely it is. I’m in show business and I’m an ex-dancer. I have an enormous number of gay friends. Marginalizing people for that? These people who are ignorant enough to think that being gay is a “chosen lifestyle?” That’s the height of ignorance. It’s like saying being black is a chosen lifestyle. Get out of here!