NEAL CONAN, host:
He's played God, Nelson Mandela and the president of the United States. He drove Miss Daisy and described the march of the penguins. Now, Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman applies that familiar voice and his intellectual curiosity to a new television show that asks big questions about science.
(Soundbite of TV program, "Through the Wormhole")
Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN (Actor): One universe, four forces, billions of galaxies. The precision and complexity of our world is enough to make even the famous cosmologist go just a little bit crazy. How does it all fit together? Is there a single, overarching design to the cosmos? And if we find it, will we glimpse the mind of God?
CONAN: Morgan Freeman is an executive producer, host and narrator for a new series on the Science Channel called "Through the Worm Hole." In addition to evidence about God, the program addresses cosmic mysteries like where we came from, what the universe is made of and are we alone. If you'd like to talk with Morgan Freeman about his new series, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Morgan Freeman joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, thank you, Neal. It's very nice to be here.
CONAN: You probably could do any number of different projects. Why this program? Why now?
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, you know, things fall into your lap sometimes. They just come because there is some unseen hand which we call providence, guiding things. And I've been interested in this subject for a very long time. And all of a sudden, Science Channel say, how would you guys like to do a program about the cosmos, because some years back, we had a company called ClickStar, and on it, we established a channel called Our Space...
Mr. FREEMAN: ...which was going to deal with, you know, space matters. And the Discovery Channel thought it was a great idea, so here we go.
CONAN: So here you go. It's interesting. We saw - got advances of two episodes. And in one, you're sort of a presenter. You go ahead of every chapter, and then there's a narrator. And for the life of me, I can't understand why, if you've got Morgan Freeman, you use somebody else to narrate.
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, I do narrate quite a lot of it. I'm not sure which episode you saw. It might have been a beta episode.
CONAN: Could have been, yeah.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah.
CONAN: So I was wondering whether we were seeing one that was in some form of production, because the other episode that we saw which was about the dark matter and dark energy, that one, you narrated throughout.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah. So I think, probably, you had a beta episode on that one.
CONAN: It was the one about the evidence about God, so that...
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah, yeah. We go back and we redo them with my voice.
CONAN: Oh - well, good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So you're not crazy after all.
Mr. FREEMAN: No, not after all.
CONAN: And it's interesting. As a reader, as you're proposing this narration, there is somebody saying, you know, I really want to get in this one great cut. We've got this scientist. It's one of my favorite scenes. And narration, to be done properly, takes time. And they say, can't you speed that up a little bit?
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, I don't control that, really. We have time picks...
Mr. FREEMAN: ...and I have to put things within a certain timeframe. I find, however, that very often they'll, say, slow it down.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah. So I do, you know? And what I'm worried about is, you know, if you talk very slowly, all of a sudden, you get...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FREEMAN: ...gravitasic(ph).
CONAN: Well, and I'm sure people tell you, you got such a great voice all the time. Does your voice impress you?
Mr. FREEMAN: No. Amazingly, not. It used to, when it was first developing. It, actually, started developing while I was doing "The Electric Company."
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah. But it was changed while I was going to school at Los Angeles City College. I had this incredible professor who taught voice and diction and voice development at the LACC.
CONAN: And how did it changed? Did it deepen?
Mr. FREEMAN: It deepens. His program - he drops your voice about an octave, sometimes maybe an octave and a half, depending on who you are. And he points out that a lot of women speak very highly...
Mr. FREEMAN: ...not very highly, but, you know, they use a higher register because it's feminine. But the normal timbre of the voices should be much lower.
CONAN: Also teach you to speak with your chest voice and not necessarily just your head voice.
Mr. FREEMAN: Exactly.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah.
CONAN: Techniques like that. But as you hear your voice being played back in editing rooms as you're in production, does that drive you nuts?
Mr. FREEMAN: No, it doesn't drive me crazy, but I do wonder what the noise is about, you know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Oh, such a wonderful timbre. We're talking, of course, with Morgan Freeman about his new project, which is called "Through the Wormhole."
And tell us a little bit about your association. This is when you talked about they approached you, you're meaning your production company, which has been set to do a number of projects.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yes. It's an entertainment - oh boy, I'm getting - it's a production company. We make films. We'll do anything in the entertainment industry if we can figure that it somehow adds to our knowledge or to the breadth of good entertainment. We don't want to do junk.
And so we produced "Invictus," the movie about Nelson Mandela and some other very nice projects. And this one, "Through the Wormhole," is sort of a marriage between us and the Discovery Channel.
CONAN: Let's get some callers the opportunity to talk with Morgan Freeman: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Vince is on the line from Farmington Hills in Michigan.
VINCE (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.
VINCE: My question, Mr. Freeman, is how impartial is the series overall to different views of science and religion?
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, you - I don't think you can make a series like this and have it partial, because we have to entertain all thoughts, all of the theories around a certain subject. The whole idea is to bring in all of the different theories and thoughts. Particularly if you're talking about something like creation, you know, you can't just go in and say this is such and this is such and this is such. Actually, nobody knows. So we get - try to get a rounded perspective on it.
CONAN: The - having seen that episode, even if in a beta form, and I think the only parts I didn't see were some, obviously the full narration, but there were some illustration system, some graphics that weren't inserted as yet. But nevertheless, there were - those who take a literal reading of the Bible will not find that view even mentioned.
Mr. FREEMAN: Or very encouraging. No, no, no, they will not, but still, we have to accept that if you take the Bible literal, then the world is only about 6,000 years old. So we have to do that with care, of course, but ask the questions. So mostly what the series does is ask the questions. I don't think it produces any answers.
CONAN: It does not come to a firm conclusion on the point, Vince, I can assure of that, without giving away the ending.
Mr. FREEMAN: Okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN Thanks very much for the phone call.
VINCE: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is John, John with us in Minneapolis.
CONAN: Yes, Mr. Freeman, I've long enjoyed your work. One thing I - what do you think of the new science fiction series "V"? Do you think - what do you think life would be on other planets? Have you ever heard a guy by the name of Schroeder(ph)? He's a mathematician, professor. He was on - all the facts about the Bible on the History Channel. He says that you can interpret that in both cosmological - in Genesis, you know, the days, in a scientific and...
JOHN: ...what sounds like (unintelligible) annoying to his ears or something like that.
CONAN: John, I'm going to invoke the advice of Morgan Freeman's producers, and slow down, if you can...
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Okay? One question at a time, I appreciate that.
JOHN: It's an honor talking to you, Mr. Freeman. I - and what do you think of the new series "V"? What you do think life on space be like? And have you heard of this guy by the name of Schroeder, who...
CONAN: All right, we got those three questions, John. Thanks very much.
Mr. FREEMAN: I don't think - I have not seen the series "V," so - and I haven't heard of this guy, Schroeder, yet...
CONAN: Or Shorter(ph), whatever his name was.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah. But I'm sure that now that it's all been invoked and stuck in to my mind, it's going to pop up somewhere and I'll have some relationship to it, but I haven't seen him yet.
CONAN: Here's an email from Erin(ph) in Southampton, New York. You played God and now you're looking into the nature of God. In the series, has this project altered or impacted your personal beliefs in the notions of a supreme being?
Mr. FREEMAN: No, not at all. These are very interesting questions, particularly as posed by these scientists and physicists and cosmologists. But I'm not sure that they're going to very heavily impact anybody's belief system. I mean, that's - you know, a belief system is just that, it's a belief. It's not based on any fact, we don't have any facts.
CONAN: One of the - there's basically three things that are described in the documentary. One is about a mathematician who believes he may have a mathematical answer to the questions posed by Einstein about the nature that would unite quantum mechanics and physics.
There's another one about whether computer programming might be the answer, and yet another...
Mr. FREEMAN: And we're all pixels.
CONAN: That we're all pixels - in somebody else's ant farm, effectively. It's a very flattering description of our state of being.
Mr. FREEMAN: That's right.
CONAN: And there was another one as well, but these are three possible courses of inquiry and they don't come to any firm conclusions about any...
Mr. FREEMAN: No, I think it would be impossible at the moment to come to any kind of firm conclusions. And we get into the idea of aliens, life on other planets - then that question becomes even more immediate.
CONAN: Indeed they do. And it's interesting - what level do you pitch this at? It seems like you're certainly not going down anywhere close to the lowest common denominator. You're asking questions at a fairly sophisticated level.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yes. These scientists and physicists that we talked to, whose ideas, theories we used, they were on a very high plane. We're not talking to the lowest common.
CONAN: We're talking with Morgan Freeman, actor, film director, narrator. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Let's go next to Ted. Ted's with us from Tucson.
TED (Caller): Hi, I just wanted to, you know, thank Morgan Freeman for being involved in a project like this and that also he's been involved with educational television, educational entertainment for a long time. And I wanted to thank him for - when I was very young, that he's responsible for, I think, a lot of my early interest in reading, when he was Easy Reader back on "The Electric Company." I wanted to thank him for that.
Mr. FREEMAN: Nice to hear, Ted. Thank you.
TED: No problem.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Gary, Gary with us from Athens in Ohio.
GARY (Caller): Yes. Thanks for taking my call. First of all, I want to say, Mr. Freeman, love everything that you've ever done. I can't think of anything that I didn't like that you're in.
Mr. FREEMAN: Oh my goodness. A true fan.
CONAN: I didn't know you had cousins in Athens, Ohio.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FREEMAN: I didn't either.
GARY: I wanted to say that - I wanted to ask you about one of your earlier - an earlier film, "Under Suspicion"...
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah?
GARY: ...with Gene Hackman. And how did you get involved in that? It's one of my favorite movies. And...
Mr. FREEMAN: Oh, bless you.
GARY: ...you and Gene together on that. And I'll go and take the question off the air. Thank you.
CONAN: Okay, Gary, thank you.
Mr. FREEMAN: "Under Suspicion" was a remake of a French film that, as a matter of fact, both Gene and I liked a lot. Gene had carried it around with him for a long time, trying to get some interest in it. And we met in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles one day and he says, I have a project I'd like to talk to you about. And we went from there, and he and I were executive producers on that. And that's how that came to be.
CONAN: And is it one of the films you're proud of?
Mr. FREEMAN: Yes, I am. Well, I'm proud of having had the chance to work with Gene Hackman. That was our second time out, since we were in "Unforgiven" together.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's go next to Jenna, Jenna with us from Little Rock.
JENNA (Caller): Hello, gentlemen.
Mr. FREEMAN: Hello, Jenna.
JENNA: I'm curious. I know you're an intelligent man, Mr. Freeman. While I am curious about how much of these topics you knew before going in to it, and how much you learned, because you all brought up the topic of God, I'm also curious about whether you're a faithful man and whether you found your faith questioned or reinforced by these topics.
CONAN: By faithful, do you mean a person of faith?
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, now, it's easier to answer the question about faith. I'm very definitely a person who - I have a very deep faith. And I'm - yes, over the years I've been reading and watching - you know, Nova and a lot Discovery Channel, a lot of PBS programming has been around this subject for a long time, and it always has fascinated me. And I think I've learned quite a lot from it.
JENNA: Yeah, I agree. Alrighty.
CONAN: Jenna, thanks very much for the call.
JENNA: Okay. Thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Ed in Philadelphia: Did your production company produced the fantastic documentary on Clint Eastwood which I saw on TV last night? Mr. Freeman narrated the program.
Mr. FREEMAN: No, that was produced, I think, by Warner Brothers or some arm of Warner Brothers.
CONAN: And how do you make your decisions on - you must get offers every day to please narrate this documentary, this feature, and indeed this commercial?
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, that isn't always easy. Sometimes you just - if it's a subject matter that you feel is going to be of a great use to the public at large...
Mr. FREEMAN: ...that's one way. If it pays well, that's another way.
CONAN: Even if you don't say, hey, I'm Morgan Freeman, people recognize that voice after all this time and will take your presence there as an endorsement.
Mr. FREEMAN: Yeah, that's a little tricky too, yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Do you get a chance to read all the scripts before you agree or disagree?
Mr. FREEMAN: Oh, absolutely, yes. I have to read them, because sometimes you have to do some editing, you know, take out stuff that you wouldn't say about something.
CONAN: And can you tell us, after "Through the Wormhole," if you're company is working on a new project.
Mr. FREEMAN: Well, we're always working on new projects. We're moviemakers, so we have a number of scripts in development, a lot of - a number of projects that we're trying to develop and get on film - always.
CONAN: Always. Well, that's great to hear. It's nice to hear somebody's continuing to make movies. We also understand you've just been awarded an honorary doctorate from Brown. So congratulations, Dr. Freeman.
Mr. FREEMAN: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Morgan Freeman, an Academy Award winning actor, narrator and director. His new series, "Through the Wormhole," premieres on the Science Channel on June 9th. And he joined us from our bureau in New York.
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