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Up Close & Personal with Zak Feau'nati
MORGAN FREEMAN

by PREETI VIRDEE
February 2010

Nelson Mandela in his cell at Robben IslandIt’s long been known that one day Oscar® winning formidable actor, Morgan Freeman would one day play Nelson Mandela – it was in his destiny. And not just because everyone else thought so: “Madiba was once asked who he would want to play him in a movie” says Freeman, “and he said ‘Morgan Freeman.’  When I first met him years ago, I told him I was honoured that he had mentioned me to portray him.”

Originally it was thought that it would be in a dramatic remake of “A  Long Walk To Freedom” – but somehow despite Freeman and his producing partner, Lori McCreary’s best efforts, that never came about; capturing the entire span of his story in the timeframe of a feature film proved to be impossible. Then out of the blue, a four-page proposal for John Carlin’s, “Playing The Enemy” landed on McCreary’s desk; it was to be a book about South Africa winning  1995 Rugby World Cup, and Mandela’s influence on the nation getting behind the ‘white man’s sport’ – previously a strong symbol of apartheid.

Coincidentally, British author and journalist, John Carlin was introduced to Freeman whilst researching poverty in Mississippi, and to his  delight the latter already knew exactly what he was referring to when he said “Mr. Freeman, I’ve got a movie for you.” Freeman personally went to Mandela, or “Madiba” as he is affectionately known by his tribal name, to get his blessing on the project before it moved ahead.

Right about then,  serendipity intervened in the universe – as the project was developing between Freeman and Carlin, South African-born screenwriter, Anthony Peckham was asked by producer Mace Neufeld [Omen Trilogy] to have a go at the script, originally to be called “The Human Factor”. When all was done, it was Freeman that sent the script to a certain multi-Oscar® winning director, Clint Eastwood, and history was in the making… Freeman remarked, “The entire project was like magnets coming together—right people, right time, right place, right issue.  Everything just clicked into place, which doesn’t happen very often.  But when it does, it’s like destiny.”

And thus “Invictus” was born… We had the privilege to catch up with Mr Morgan Freeman at the European Press Launch of the Oscar® nominated movie.Invictus European Press Conference, Claridges, 31st January 2010

How did it finally feel to play Nelson Mandela?
“It feels rather terrific. It was a situation that was meant to happen. I didn’t feel a sense of responsibility.”

Watching the movie with Madiba, what was his reaction and was there any interaction during filming:
“Yes he’s seen the film – he smiled a lot and nodded. When I first came on screen he leaned over to me and said “I know this fellow”. I got the impression that he wasn’t embarrassed. I consulted films and tapes on him – things like that – but I didn’t go to him and say “Madiba how did you feel about that” because he’s 90 years old. I don’t know him that well. I’ve run into him in places around the world but I wouldn’t call him in the middle of the night and say “Yo! Madiba! What’s going on?”

Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela at Ellis Park, RWC FinalHaving played God, the natural progression was to play Mandela. How did you research it?
“The most challenging was the voice, accent. Everything else was easy. Once I got the notion that one of these days I’d be playing him screen, it became a question of just playing close attention to him. Whenever I was in his company or I saw him on screen – I’d just watch because one of these days I’d have to do that.”

Following “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby”, this is Freeman’s third movie with Clint Eastwood. And something that has always been noted about Eastwood is his penchant for one scene takes – a technique of film making that appears to be somewhat unusual in the 21st century.

How do one scene takes impact on the actors?
“I think Clint’s been my favourite director because I respond v well to the one or two take directors and he’s very insistent in that area. Directors who need 17-20 takes I don’t think they know what they want and it certainly doesn’t help the actors sense of security when you have to keep doing something over and over and you don’t know why.”

Morgan Freeman Invictus European Press Conference, Claridges, 31st January 2010“Invictus” was nominated for numerous awards including 2 Oscars® and 3 Golden Globes, so how important are awards to you:
“Awards are pats on the back. The main thing about awards for movies is that it’s an economic surge for the film – your movie gets nominated for any award and it makes a big splurge in the papers so you go see it again – it implies don’t give up on it!”

And finally, what do you think of sport and politics coming together?
He [Mandela] also tells this great story about when he was invited to Barcelona to the ’92 Olympics*. We talk about sports and politics – we only have to look at the Olympics to see that they do come together in that sport can somehow ameliorate politics. I remember was it ’88 when we boycotted the Olympics because it was going to be held in Moscow, that was a bad year; the Olympics didn’t do well that year. Politics being the overriding factor in a sporting event doesn’t work that way.”

And thus ended our time with Hollywood’s God and Mandela – and quite frankly, who else on earth could honestly do those roles justice…

*An interview with Francois Pienaar in The Sunday Times in 2008 expands on this great story, when Pienaar met Mandela for the first time in 1994, a year before the Rugby World Cup:

“…he switched the conversation to his memories of the Barcelona Olympic Games, which he had attended in 1992 and recalled with great enthusiasm.

“He talked about the power that sport had to move people and how he had seen this not long after his release in the Barcelona Olympics, which he especially remembered for one particular moment when he said he stood up and he felt the whole stadium reverberating,” said Pienaar, in whose mind Mandela was seeking to plant the first seeds of a political idea.”

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