LOS ANGELES -- Morgan Freeman's chatting about being born in Memphis and how he will probably take a break from a long day of talking about his new cable project, "The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman," to have a quick snack. With anyone else, this would be dismissed as idle chatter but because Freeman's voice has the command tone of a deity laced with just enough of his Southern upbringing to make him devilishly charming, even his small talk has weight.
There's a seamlessness to how he goes from the casual conversation to talking about the new National Geographic series that launches Oct. 11. It's really all about conversations as the opening episode, titled "The March of Freedom," has the 80-year-old Freeman traveling around the world in search of a greater understanding of the concept of freedom. The question he poses is: Will we all ever be truly free?
Freeman's quest for understanding brings him into contact with powerful world leaders and ordinary people with extraordinary stories. Although he has more than a half century of acting credits, projects like this one and his previous National Geographic series, "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman," have pushed him into new territories.
"There is a different kind of satisfaction between acting and hosting these shows. Acting is genetic. It was something I was born to do. This is a new venture. I am learning something else: how to engage people professionally and not to just sitting down and to have a conversation but to have a conversation about specific things. It's a learning experience and I'm still at it," Freeman says.
Freeman still may be learning the process of being himself in front of the camera, but he's got plenty of curiosity about the world to bring to the series. "The Story of Us" looks to show the common humanity inside each one of us through six episodes that will explore a single fundamental force or topic: freedom, peace, love, social division, power and rebellion.
"Curiosity is 90 percent of getting into the project as we sit around throwing out ideas. That's where my nosiness comes in. I just have this thing about want to know," Freeman says. "I think that goes back to my childhood. When I would pull a book down from the shelf, it wasn't just for entertainment but out of curiosity."
Few actors have been as honored or played as many diverse roles as Freeman. Even with that resume, it was a little bit of a leap of faith by the executive producers when they decided to approach Freeman to be the host of "The Story of God." Lori McCreary, who has known Freeman for years, admits no one was completely certain how Freeman would handle the interviewing process.
She banked on his driving curiosity to be the key to getting the stories they wanted.
"What we saw in 'The Story of God' was, wow, he's bringing out something in these individuals that we might not have otherwise gotten if we had just brought along an actor for hire," McCreary says. "It's one of the things that inspired us to go further in 'The Story of Us,' which was let's tell some more intimate stories that talk about how we are all connected and how similar we all are in love, in freedom, in war and peace.
"I think that without someone like Morgan, who can really get to the center of these wonderful people, it might not be as impactful. And with him, it's impactful."
Freeman has learned that the key to getting people to open up is to shut up and listen. What he got people to say about some very heady topics will be the fodder for the first season of "The Story of Us."
Hosting the series for National Geographic is satisfying the curiosity in Freeman, but not to the extent he will be trading away a career in film and TV for permanent hosting duties.
But he is getting a real joy out of meeting all of the different people. He loves sitting down and having a conversation with someone and realizing that he's just talked with someone from the other side of the world and they are saying pretty much the same things but only in a different language. He wants those conversations to make people think.
"I'm here to leave the world a better place, if I can, and you don't have to be a world leader to do (expletive) like that," Freeman says. "Little things mean a lot."
"THE STORY OF US WITH MORGAN FREEMAN"
9 p.m. Oct. 11, National Geographic Channel
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