On the big screen Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman has been everything from God (“Bruce Almighty”) to President (“Deep Impact”) to an assassin (”Wanted”) but playing former South African President Nelson Mandela probably means more to him than any previous role. Starring as the quiet yet iconic leader in Invictus, the man who makes Batman cool is extremely humble.
“I’ve been studying Nelson Mandela for maybe 12 years,” he told TheUrbanDaily.com. ” He’s one of those people that are so secure in his own skin. A quiet man. For me the biggest thing was looking and sounding like him. My challenge was to sound like him. If I failed that’s where it would be.”
The film, titled after the inspirational poem by William Ernest Henley, tells the story of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joining forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.
“I’ve been planning to do something about Mandela and it was originally going to be based on his book Long Walk to Freedom,” Mr. Freeman reveals. “But we couldn’t get a script worked out. I kind of believe in signs, if something isn’t supposed to happen it won’t happen. We didn’t do Long walk because it wasn’t meant to be and this was.”
Despite his reverence for Mandela, Freeman was not intimidated by the part.
“One time I entered a room and spoke to him in his voice and he laughed,” he recalls.
Filming on Invictus was accomplished entirely on location in and around the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. During his first meeting with the world’s most famous political prisoner at the end of his presidency Freeman remembers visiting the cell he was held in for 27 years.
“The first time I visited Robben Island…to stand in the cell and look around, I remember stretching my arms out to see how much turn around room is in there. Matt did the same thing. You kind of get a sense of the time and it’s a little painful. There is a pang you feel in your heart, how can you do this?”
Reunited with Director Clint Eastwood,whom he worked with on Unforgiven, Freeman is excited about the movie and dismisses any notion that a “White” director could not tell this story.
“It was our project. I called Clint and told him that I had a good script that I’d like for him to read,” Freeman says. “He’s an actor’s dream. Any filmmakers dream. Whether you’re a cable puller or a grip he’s just a dream to work with. Usually when you go to work with him you see the same people over and over again because people want to stay around him. He’s the best. Bar none.”
With Americans having elected their first African-American President Freeman feels there is a lesson domestic audiences can take from Invictus.
“If they take away anything at all you would hope it would be the lesson of forgiveness, tolerance…allowing others to be. We have trouble with that here in America sometimes.”
Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, is in theaters now!