In “Oblivion,” Morgan Freeman plays Beech, the leader of a group of guerrilla soldiers fighting against Tom Cruise and his scientist-soldier companions for the fate of a post-apocalyptic Earth. But keeping in line with his previous roles as the leader of the free world and even God himself, Freeman’s own hopes for what our future would look like are pretty peaceful and pastoral. “We would all live in trees,” the actor explains. “We would walk wherever we went. The planet would be rejuvenated. We wouldn’t be killing off all the animals just to feed us.”
“Oblivion” marks the first time that Freeman has worked with Cruise, and in spite of being the sort of actor others clamor to share the screen with, he admits that he was swayed by the possibility of their collaboration. “If I was going to be a truck driver hauling supplies [for this film], I would have taken the job,” Freeman says. “I’m one of his huge fans — I have been one for I don’t know how many years.”
He admits that the role of Beech was initially less substantial in the script, but the prospect of working on something with such an enormous scale — and with an enormous star — proved too irresistible to pass up. “If you compare the script to the movie, they don’t compare,” he admits. “But I was excited by the script, [and] the movie is so much more than what you read on the page. But it’s a big science-fiction film with Tom Cruise. It’s hard to go wrong.”
At 75, Freeman has tackled virtually any challenge an actor might face. But he insists that the ever-changing nature of his work is what helps him maintain enthusiasm for his profession, his art. “I enjoy it every single day,” Freeman insists. “I was born to do this. It’s not like I have to get up every morning Monday through Friday and go to a job. A movie begins and it ends in a relatively short period of time, so in a given period of time — let’s say a year — you can have three, four or five different experiences, which is kind of exciting.”
That variety of experiences had made him not just a star, but an icon — and a beloved public figure. But Freeman says he’s come to terms with the responsibilities of celebrity, even if his priority remains the work itself. “One of my movie heroes, Humphrey Bogart, was asked a question about pictures, autographs and the public,” Freeman remembers. “Bogart said, ‘I don’t owe the public anything but a good performance,’ and I tried to take that to heart, but not quite so. You can’t quite get away from it.
“I don’t do autographs,” he explains. “They are a waste of time. But touching someone’s hand, hugging a beautiful lady? All of that works out very well. So I think I owe the public a little bit more than just a good performance. I owe them just a little bit of my time — if I’m cornered.”