Morgan Freeman talks lemurs

Ed Symkus More Content Now
Morgan Freeman relaxes at the microphone at a recording session for "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar."

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Morgan Freeman has been in the acting game for decades. Most American viewers first caught him during his run as Mark on “The Electric Company” in the 1970s. Yet even though he worked steadily in TV and films over the years, it wasn’t till his 1989 Golden Globe-winning performance in “Driving Miss Daisy” that he became a force to reckon with, equally recognizable for his one-of-a-kind face and his calm, reassuring, mellifluous voice. Face and voice kind of became one in 1994 when he costarred in and narrated “The Shawshank Redemption,” and he brought the art of narrating educational films to a whole new level when his voice graced “March of the Penguins” in 2005. His dulcet tones were part of what made the 2011 documentary “Born to Be Wild” – about orphaned orangutans – so fascinating. Two of that film’s makers, writer Drew Fellman and cinematographer David Douglas, felt that project worked so well, they got back in touch with Freeman when they were making their new IMAX film “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” with Douglas now directing. Freeman, 76, who seems to be in about a movie a month these days, didn’t even hesitate to say yes. He recently spoke about the cute little primates from Madagascar, and about his career, in Los Angeles.

What did you find endearing about lemurs?

I didn’t know lemurs. But I have a friend who has a place in the Caribbean who raises lemurs. So on a visit there about a year ago I was introduced to them up close and personal, and I got a little bit of information about them. They’re terrific little creatures.

Were you aware that even though there are 103 species of lemurs, they’re an endangered animal?

There was a book called “Ishmael” in which the author explained that we are turning everything on this planet into food for humans. We’ll eat it, and if we can’t eat it, we’ll kill it and take its place, just move it out of the way. The amazing thing about Madagascar is that there were no humans there when the lemurs got there. So they flourished, and life does … without us.

Is the fact that lemurs are in trouble what got you interested in working on the film?

David and Drew said, “We’re making this film about lemurs in Madagascar, and we would like to call upon you again to do the narration for us. We did very well with ‘Born to Be Wild,’ so if you have a mind to do it we would be happy to have you.” And if we’re going to be doing something that gives some s-u-c-c-o-r – it’s a word I always read and never say – gives some attention and consideration to the other life forms on our planet, I’m happy to do it.

You’ve become so well-known for narrating documentaries for film and television. What are your thoughts on their educational value?

I think the educational value is what comes first. People are glued to television. We can’t get our children out into the park, so if we can find the right stuff to present to them if they ARE going to be watching television, well, I’ve said that I have this belief in disseminating useful information about the planet and the diverse biology of it. So I’ve dedicated myself to being available for anything that helps that along. It’s an obligation.

Do you think that, since the popularity and success of “March of the Penguins” some of these stories get made because you’re attached to them?

Yes and no. If I don’t do it, someone else will and, I’m a little reticent to say, just as well. There are a lot of us who do this kind of work and do it quite well.

What’s your actual process for doing narration?

I get the script and I read the script. Generally there is footage that I get to see so I know what I’ll be talking about. And then it’s just a matter of sitting in front of a microphone and reading. (lowers his voice) And I have these incredible pipes. (laughs) But you can’t take too much credit for someone’s writing. There is always that to be considered.

You seem to be working all the time. How do you manage to make so many movies?

Well, it doesn’t take very long to do them. They’ll say, “Morgan, would you mind doing this part in this movie? It’s only for a week.” Well, I could do 52!

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.