Morgan Freeman has become one of the most iconic figures in American film, serving in recent years as the screen's official figure of stalwart gravitas. In his latest film, "Now You See Me" — out this week on Blu-ray and DVD — the Oscar winner takes on the role of a magician; jumping into a profession generally seen as the farthest extreme away from dignity and seriousness. Nonetheless, as he demonstrates in this crime thriller set in the magician's milieu, if there is one man who could make pulling a rabbit out of a hat seem dignified, it is Morgan Freeman.
We spoke to him by phone from his home in Mississippi about his latest role and life as a eminence gris.
Q: Have you ever wanted to be a magician?
A: I've never had enough dexterity to pull that off. But I'm fascinated by illusions, creating an illusion that people can look at and not see. It's not unlike acting.
Q: How did you come to be the most distinguished man in America? Are you distinguished in real life?
A: No, no, no. In private life, I qualify very badly. I have no idea. I just do not know. The first movie I got an award nomination for, I played a pimp. But from there, I played all these good guys. I don't think I've played more than one more bad guy after that, but I don't know why.
Q: How do you prepare then for these distinguished parts? To play the president or God.
A: I do two things: I read the script and decide, if it can convince you, if you can do it. Then I have a conversation with the costume designer, and then you talk to the makeup artist. If you believe the way you look, you can do it. The clothes make the man.
Q: Do you try and understand God's motivation?
A: No, no. But I think I'm probably one of the best people to play God because I really believe I am him.
Q: You are also a very experienced pilot. Why do you fly?
A: To slip the surly bonds of Earth, as they say. There's nothing else like it. Right now I'm looking out the window at this terrific buildup in clouds to the south of me, wishing I could be soaring through it. It's just an extraordinary experience, when you're piloting.
Q: Do you ever get scared?
A: The one time I've felt fear is when I realized I was almost upside down over Fort Myers, Florida. I came out of a cloud and realized I was almost upside down. But mastering fear is a matter of action, Keep functioning. Don't close your eyes.
Watch a scene from "Now You See Me" featuring Morgan Freeman:
Q: What does scare you?
A: I fear for this planet and what we're doing to it. We have to stop burning fossil fuels. It's not just the United States. If you go to China, there's no blue sky around the major cities, Shanghai and Beijing. Reading about it you come by the realization, that we're turning everything on the planet into food. We're out-populating everything else.
Q: You narrated one of the most famous nature films of all with "March of the Penguins." What animal would you like to take on next?
A: Well, I just finished doing one about the lemurs of Magdascar for National Geographic. There's a lemur compound I spent time on there, because the man who owns believes the lemurs are in big trouble.
Q: Are people shocked to that the most distinguished man in America wears an earring?
A: I've been wearing this since the '70s. I started out with an earring, my first wife stuck an earring in my ear, and its been there since. And, I should add, José Ferrar, had one, too.
See the trailer for Morgan Freeman's upcoming film "Last Vegas":