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Morgan Freeman trades playing God for exploring 'The Story of God'

Make no mistake, though his filmography may suggest otherwise, Morgan Freeman has no idea how to play God.

“Playing God is simply a matter of learning a script. It didn’t require research beyond that,” Freeman deadpanned during National Geographic’s panel for “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman” on Wednesday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.

The project, a collaboration among Lori McCreary, James Younger and Freeman, who all serve as executive producers, is an exploration of religion across the globe and the function of God in any given society. The team previously collaborated on Discovery’s “Through the Wormhole.”

As for why the three turned to matters of religion in their latest offering, McCreary explained with a story that featured Freeman and herself in a mosque, wherein she was surprised to learn that Islam included tales of the life of Jesus Christ and was struck by how much she didn’t know. “Maybe exploring this [religion] would help enlighten and enrich us," McCreary said.

“We were driven to make this by seeing all of the misunderstanding and difficulties centered around religion in the world today. We were motivated to say, ‘Let’s go there and see what religions have in common,” said Younger, adding, “What we found is a remarkable commonality between religions.”

However, the series found itself stymied by the limitations of trying to carve such a complex subject down to six hour-long installments, ultimately being limited to focusing just on the “big five” according to Freeman, the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) as well as Buddhism and Hinduism.

“We had to cut away a lot that we wanted to talk about because there just wasn’t time. We wanted to be able to dig deep into the religions we addressed,” said McCreary.

But for as much time as they’ve spent poring over the notion of God and his followers, the trio still have unanswered questions. When asked what they would ask the Divine given the opportunity, they didn’t hesitate.

McCreary wondered, “What’s the key to unifying us all as Your children?” while Freeman opted for a more pointed, “What do You think now?” But it was former scientist Younger who opted for the most universal question of all: “Why?”

“The Story of God” will air on National Geographic Channel in spring.

Follow me on Twitter at @midwestspitfire.

libby.hill@latimes.com

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