By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Morgan Freeman knows something about authority figures, having played a number of them over the years, including a school principal in “Lean on Me,” a brigadier general in “Outbreak,” the U.S. president in “Deep Impact” and the Almighty himself in two movies.
So it’s practically a demotion that cinema’s leading leader figure surrogate plays the mere Speaker of the House in the action-thriller “Olympus Has Fallen.” That is, until his character is called upon to take charge of the country, when the sitting president (played with Kennedyesque cool by Aaron Eckhart) is taken hostage in the White House by North Korean terrorists, and the VP is killed. As Gerard Butler, playing a former Secret Service agent who is the only one inside the executive mansion that can mount a daring rescue, Freeman must make important national security decisions from a remote location.
While the fictional takeover of the White House depicted in the Antoine Fuqua-helmed actioner is deadly serious, the 75-year-old Freeman is in a playful mood as he addresses questions about his latest authoritative onscreen role.
Q: One of the great moments in the film is when you take charge. Everyone in the audience cheered at a pre-release screening of the movie.
Freeman: (deadpan) As well they should.
Q: Did you have to do any additional research for playing the Speaker of the House?
Freeman: I don’t think to play just about any role, unless you are going to play someone who is living today, that you have to do any research beyond learning your lines. I don’t go for trying to study the Speaker of the House. You know who that is. But seriously, I don’t think there is any need for that. When I played a prisoner (in “The Shawshank Redemption”), some of the actors went to go spend the night in jail. (I thought) “Really? To learn what?”
Q: Though the movie is set in Washington, you actually shot it in Louisiana. What was it like working in the heat and humidity there?
Freeman: I was raised in Mississippi, so that heat and humidity is my bread and butter. It keeps me going. I can’t stand cold weather. I’m freezing now.
Q: What was it like working with Angela Bassett (who plays the head of the Secret Service)?
Freeman: One of the great things about this work that we do (is that) I’m still kind of star struck. I’ve seen everyone (in this cast) do incredible work, and to get a chance to dance with them is a serious perk in life. In terms of Angela, yeah, I’m there. Dylan (McDermott, who plays a Secret Service agent) and I have worked together a couple of times before. You find a good dance partner and you just want to dance.
Q: What’s your secret to staying so humble in Hollywood?
Freeman: I don’t live here. I go where people put you in your place.
Q: How do you work up the character in terms of it splitting the President role with Aaron Eckhart?
Freeman: That doesn’t really enter into it. I don’t see that there is any decision you’re making regarding your role except you’re going to play him or not. What’s in the script is in the script. You don’t go to the director and say, “Look, I like the idea of playing this. But I want all these lines changed so that I can put more weight into the idea that I would really like to be president.”