Freeman's wide web

Morgan Freeman is tired.

And it's no wonder.

Having just wrapped "High Crimes" with Ashley Judd, Freeman is in Chicago to promote his just-opened movie "Along Came a Spider" and meet with Intel about effects for his forthcoming film "Rendezvous with Rama," an Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi story to be directed by David Fincher ("Se7en").

When he finally sits down at the Four Seasons Hotel, Freeman mock-collapses on the table after taking the first sip of tea. He sighs and his 6-foot-2-inch frame sinks into a chair--seeming to relax for the first time in days.

At 64, Freeman shows few signs of slowing down. A three-time Academy Award nominee, the `90s saw Freeman direct his first film "Bopah!" and start his own production company.

Once called "America's greatest living actor" by influential film critic Pauline Kael, Freeman now also heads a franchise as criminal profiler Alex Cross, from author James Patterson's popular detective series. Freeman first played Patterson's uber-sleuth in "Kiss the Girls," but returns in "Along Came a Spider" to track a psychopathic killer and kidnapper.

Here, the acting legend talks about the new film, his Chicago roots and how legends are made.

Q. The screen persona of Alex Cross differs from his portrayal in the page. In the books, he has children and lives with his grandmother. In the movie, he's more of a loner with no children. Why?

A. In the series, "Along Came a Spider" comes before "Kiss the Girls." The children are years younger and he's years younger. The reality is the opposite. I'm older,so I felt likewe really can't turn the clock back. We don't have to play what the books plays. We took out the romance between him and Jezzie (actress Monica Potter). You can play it anyway you want to.

Q. Renee Zellweger gave you only your second on-screen kiss in "Nurse Betty" and you've never had a love scene. Why did you take out the romance with Jezzie? Was that part of your decision as an executive producer?

A. Yeah, yeah. I thought it made him look kind of stupid.

Q. But it was your chance to do a love scene . . .

A. Have you ever done a love scene in a movie?

Q. No, no I have problem with real ones.

A . They are hard.

Q. Why not play a romantic lead?

A. You ask the same question my wife asks. I just read scripts, take what comes. If one comes along, I'd love to.

Q. One of the themes in the film is: Everyone is either born with a talent, or they develop something and then you do that one thing. Were you born with acting talent or developed it?

A. Born with it. I could have done something else, but it wouldn't be as fulfilling. I could have gone into medicine, law, whatever--at night I'd be moonlight at somebody's community theater. I feel I'm on the right path, doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Q. You lived in Chicago at different times in your youth and were even part of a street gang called The Spiders. What are your associations with Chicago?

A. Neg-a-tive. I lived on the South Side. Gangsterism. Hoodlumism. Cold. I was just about the roughest time in life.

Q. What do you remember about that time? About the Spiders?

A. We were junior league, baby league. I'm not a joiner, but it was like a life necessity to belong to one of these little groups. Solo, you don't survive. You need backup. A hell of a way to live. You don't understand unless you live it.

You ever read "Lord of the Flies"? There is a huge syndrome I think in children in situations like that, where they band together for self-protection.

Q. Are your associations with Chicago changing?

A. No, it's part of your past. Last time I was in Chicago was when I was doing "Chain Reaction." It was one of the worst winters in Chicago in the past 100 years. Now, try and imagine that. This is a place that glorifies winter. It defines winter. And when you're talking about one of the worst, it defines awfulness. So to be out in the weather of Chicago making a movie, it's like: "Isn't this supposed to be fun? I'm dying out here." (laughs)

Q. You once said, "Everybody has their one heaven, and my one heaven is being in films." What your one hell then?

A. Being without them. No movies. No theater at all. But I only just imagine that. Not being able to get up and perform.

Q. Even though you've played a lot of different characters, they seem to fall into two camps: men of status and men who have no status. Lately, it's been mostly men of status. What draws you to those roles?

A. I don't know. Maybe it's growing up without status. I think there is a part of me somewhere inside that is responding to a role model.

In spite of myself, I'm aware of one section of the audience, and that section is young and impressionable. In our life and time, there are probably fewer role models than there ought to be.

Q. I understand you're opening a blues club in Clarksdale, Miss.

A. Yes, glad you asked about it. We have a restaurant right now there that's doing very well. May 27th is (blues club) Ground Zero's jump day.

Q. There are a lot of folks there who believed in the Robert Johnson legend--that the bluesman sold his soul to the devil to learn the guitar. Do you believe that?

A. It's true. He's from there. It's legend, of course, that he met the devil at the confluence Hwy. 49 and Hwy. 91. I believe the whole legend. You have the devil, and everybody sort of accepts that he is the harbinger or bringer or exemplar of bad times. And the blues is an expression of that. It's letting it out, the way you vent. (sings) "If I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck as all" --that's the blues.

Q. Yes.

A. Well, I'm a bit of Zen follower. I don't really believe in any of that--the devil, etc. But I do believe in balance. If you believe in good, evil exists.

Q. How do you reconcile that with your belief in this legend then?

A. Legends are always based on reality. Every legend is built on some basic reality. Of necessity, we take some real happening and in order for it to survive, we have to give it weight. And I think that's where this legend comes from. The fact this music survives and that his name survives with that attachment means that it's true.

Robert K. Elder is a Chicago Tribune staff reporter.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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