“You can only ask me questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” Morgan Freeman says, his iconic voice deadpan, giving nothing away. Then he busts out laughing. Freeman is at the AwardsLine offices to discuss The Story of God—the six-episode docuseries he hosts on Nat Geo, examining the notion of an afterlife, the apocalypse and evil. Freeman is also an E.P., alongside his Revelations Entertainment partner, Lori McCreary, and, as might be expected from the man who once played the actual voice of God (Bruce Almighty), the show has snagged them an Emmy nom. It’s not their first go-round with the big philosophical questions, either. In 2013 and 2014, Revelations got noms for Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole—also hosted by Freeman—a show that asked questions like, why do we lie? Are we here for a reason? Can time go backwards?
So, with a plethora of great acting roles at his disposal, what continually draws Freeman to these philosophical projects? “Everybody asks themselves, or a preacher, or a parent, things like, where do I come from? Why am I here?” he says. “So, if you have a shot at asking this question of people in the world who might give you different answers, why not?”
Making The Story of God took you to some of the pinnacles of faith in the world, in particular, Varanasi and Egypt. Did those places affect you spiritually or alter your beliefs?
In Varanasi, of course you’re affected by the spirituality of that place. Dead bodies coming down through the street, chanting, the rituals that go on along the Ganges, the fact of the Ganges and the people who say that Varanasi is the holiest place on the planet, on the holiest river on the planet. When you go there you can understand why all those people are down there doing what they’re doing. They’re burning the dead.
One of the most interesting things about Hindus that we discovered is the question of reincarnation. Now, I’ve grown up pretty much knowing that there was such a thing as reincarnation, but the Hindus don’t find it all that comforting. Reincarnation is a chore. You have to be reincarnated because you haven’t done it correctly, so you have to keep coming back until you get it right. But if you go to Varanasi and die and they’re cremated there, no worries, you’re done.
That’s a convenient solution to the problem.
Yeah, very convenient. Yeah. I thought, well, yeah, I would be sure to do that.
At what point did the idea for the show come about?
I mean the initial catalyst–I think that happened in Turkey. My producing partner, Lori McCreary and I were in Turkey and we were at the Hagia Sophia. We were looking at all of the frescos, and it was so many stories of Christianity and Jesus. [We asked], “So this was originally a church, and then in about 1935 it turned over to a mosque and then it was a museum, right? The frescos–when it became a mosque, did they cover them? Did they paint over them?” They said, “No, no, no. Jesus is part of Islamic history.” So in Islam, Jesus is another of the prophets. There’s the realization that as much as you think you know, this information is just totally new to you. We said, “How much more don’t we know?” But we didn’t go back home and say, “Let’s do a show about it,” or anything like that. We hooked up with James Younger, a very, very bright man. The idea just sort of germinated into something we thought we would try to sell. Actually, I don’t think we even tried to sell it.
What about Season 2? What can we expect?
I didn’t even know that we were going to do Season 2, so I don’t have ideas for the show. I’m just the face of it. James—that’s who you need to talk to about the ideas. But I do have three major subjects that we’re going to examine, and they all again have to do with us and God, death, redemption, and a form of reincarnation that we all embrace, which is the idea of what happens when you die, and where do you go?
Are you planning to focus more on producing in the future?
Yes. You know, our mission statement is the reason we call ourselves Revelations Entertainment–because we want to reveal more and more of what we call truth.
So what sort of projects do you have coming up?
Historic films, TV shows that teach us something about ourselves and our history. But there’s so much of American history that we don’t know. It just goes past if we don’t know anything at all about it, simply because the people who conquer are the ones who write the history.
Was there a moment that was particularly uplifting or even frightening in making The Story of God?
Not frightening at all, but there were a number of times when I felt totally involved with where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing. Oddly enough, I went to Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston and I was so impressed with him. I mean this guy’s got something to say, and what he’s telling you is always the truth. He was saying, “Listen, don’t sabotage your chance at success by getting up and saying, ‘I’m not going to be able to do what I want to do today, I’m not going to be able to get this job, I’m not going to be able to make this swing, I’m not going to be able to…’” He says that’s wrong. He said, “Don’t do that. God has given you all the tools you need to succeed, all you have to do is make up your mind that you’re going to.” I said, “That’s true.” I liked him.
Looking back over your career so far, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Heavens, no. What would I have done differently? If I’d done anything differently, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.
What are some acting roles that still grab your interest?
Well, there are tons of roles that grab my interest. A lot of roles that I would really, really like to have done, but can’t do anymore because I’m approaching that age where trying to be active, you might wind up getting a broken neck, leg, arm, back, so I’m sort of out of the running on those. That’s the downside of it. But there’s tons of other work that’s going to come that I’m excited to do. I don’t know what it is. I’ll know when it gets here.