Did you read the Feast Of Love novel?
I didn't read the book. I don't believe that the two can go together - either you read the book or you read the script. Don't try to marry them both, as somebody has already done that and if there's a difference, you want to be able to go with the script without question.
Is comedy or drama more difficult?
Nothing is difficult. What is difficult about making movies is writing them. And that’s the difficult part. After that, the difficulty is getting them funded. From my standpoint, from an actor’s point of view – getting the job is the hardest thing I have to do.
Do you get frustrated with noble roles that don't offer much in the way of a shaded story?
Not really. The frustration I feel is when you get a script that starts off well and then peters out two-thirds of the way through and you realise the writer didn't know where he was going, and there's no proper ending. If you get a full-blown story with a character you've already played, that's just like... (Freeman throws his arms up) "Thank you, no." A lot of times writers will say, "I wrote this with you in mind." And I'll argue, "No you didn't, you wrote it with a character that I played in mind." You can't write something with me in mind if it's something you've seen me do, because that's unfair.
Do you get a lot of, "You're the only person we want"?
I am kind of put off by people who tell me I'm the only person to play something because I remember my own career coming up and the idea that only that actor can do it was insulting to me – they didn’t think I could do it? The shoe now is on the other foot. I still have the same feeling. Ain't no one monkey stopping one show... It just doesn't work that way. As soon as I step aside, two or three thousand people jump up "I got it! I'm all over it!"
But you do have a lot more choice these days...
I do. I can't deny that I seek out meaty roles. They seek me out also. And the predominance of the scripts that I get are of that ilk. But every now and then someone will come along with something completely different for me to do and if I'm lucky I get to do it.
Do you love thwarting expectations? You played a villain in The Contract...
Of course! There is so much more joy in being able to release demons. We all have them and we would much prefer to let them out in a pretend situation than if someone provokes us and they escape.
But you've played heroes- in the likes of The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en and Unforgiven - that have real levels. Is that you?
I don't think I imbue a good script with anything except my attempts to be honest with the script. If it's not on the page, you don't get it. You can't put an awful script on its feet.
Public opinion seems to be that those roles are you greatest performances. But is there anything you want to point us towards as an undiscovered gem?
Not everybody saw it, but I thought Street Smart was one of my most noble efforts. Because it's a departure from the work I've done since then. But at the time, it was well within the stuff I did.
Are there things you still want to do? You've just worked with Jack Nicholson on The Bucket List...
It was a dream come true for me. To watch an actor like Jack Nicholson work is just the greatest fun in the world. He's about as dedicated as they come. There are a lot of actors with who 'd like to dance. I like George Clooney. I'd love to find something that we could do – either something with meaning or something airy, like the Ocean’s films.
You're playing Nelson Mandela in The Human Factor. Is that an incredible responsibility?
Yeah, that may be one of the most intimidating undertakings that I see on my horizon. I feel pressure, but I don't think it's incredible. It's not something I can't rise to, but there is a pressure to get it right. I have talked with him at length. What I will do from here on is get footage. What I need is rhythm for his voice.
How do you go about balancing jobs you're passionate about will bill-paying work?
The bill-payers are fun jobs. There are times when someone's going to offer you a bucket load of money to be in something that is just a fun little film, a summer blockbuster. I don't see that there's something negative in that. What it more often does is give you the latitude to do something that isn't going to pay well.
Is the comic book adaptation Wanted one for the fun list?
It's a fairly buttoned-down role. Again, I'm the mentor. But I get to do a one-time scene with guns. Pure, pure fun.
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