Emmys: Morgan Freeman on 'Through the Wormhole,' His Nominated Doc Series
Freeman, who serves as the series' narrator and E.P., tells THR, "I developed an interest in physics when I was in high school," adding, "I just like learning stuff."
Earlier this week I connected by phone with Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman -- which is probably the closest that I will ever come to speaking with God -- to discuss Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, the Science Channel series about the mysteries of the universe that Freeman narratives and executive produces with Lori McCreary, his longtime producing partner at Revelations Entertainment, James Younger, who joined us on the call, and Tracy Mercer.
Last month, the series was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Non Fiction Series, alongside PBS's American Masters, PBS's The Abolitionists, History's The Men Who Built America and HBO's Vice. And on Sept. 22, it could make history by becoming the first Science Channel original show to ever take home Emmy gold.
What are the roots of Freeman's interest in science and association with the show? Does Freeman, a fervent believer in science, also believe in God? And what does he make of people in 21st century America who reject the scientific evidence of evolution and global warming? You can read his responses to these questions, and more, below.
The Hollywood Reporter: I’d like to begin by asking you the obvious question – what is the root of your interest in science? I hadn’t been aware of it until I first heard about Through the Wormhole.
Morgan Freeman: Well, my interest in science is really not that dramatic. I’m not really a science buff. I think I’m barely an education buff. I just like learning stuff. Doing Through the Wormhole is strictly a learning experience, although I’m enjoying doing the show. I get quite a lot out of it. I developed an interest in physics when I was in high school. All this science stuff I had a hand in I did well in. You do well in what interests you, I guess. I was very interested in physics. I was an A-student just based on the fact that I was alive during class. (laughs)
THR: How did Through the Wormhole come together and how did you become involved with it?
Freeman: The genesis of it was we had a company some years ago, Lori and I, that we kickstarted. Part of the thing about the kickstarter was – aside from being able to download first-run movies – we’d done a setup of this channel for different kinds of outlets, like a sports outlet, a documentary outlet. I wanted one about space. It didn’t go, but later on, some years later, Lori had a conversation with Anita from Discovery Channel, and Anita wanted to know, "Could we expand that into an hour show?" We managed to come up with James Younger [who became another executive producer on the show] and do just that.
THR: Why did you guys pick the title that you picked?
Freeman: I don’t remember where the title came from, but one of us came up with the idea of Through the Wormhole – it might’ve been James.
Younger: I know that [general manager] Debbie Myers at the Science Channel was quite a fan of that title. I think we suggested a few titles to her and she liked that one because it was kind of enigmatic.
THR: And for someone who has not yet caught up with the show but will read this interview, could you explain the show's format and what you aim to do each time you put out an episode?
Freeman: We primarily ask questions that we think are very deep questions. We’re on the fourth season now. We ask questions like: "Did we invent God?" "Will we survive first contact?" "Can we live forever?" "Will we ever see the speed of light?" Things like that. We ask these questions to some of the deep thinkers in the science field -- cosmologists and neurologists and people like that -- and they hold forth with their theories and their knowledge.
THR: What is the exact role that you play? I know that you’re the narrator and an executive producer, but do you get into things like suggesting topics or doing research or things like that?
Freeman: I’m just the narrator. I’m just the host. Sometimes we have big sessions, but I don’t recall that I ever came up with a question that survived to the show. That’s James’ strong suit.
Younger: I hate to disagree with you Morgan -- we love to disagree. I know that you asked about the “Are we alone?” question in season one, and many of the questions about –
Freeman: Alright, one! I asked one question. (laughs)
Younger: We always argue about “What is the meaning of space and the universe?” And I think that the show “What is Nothing?” is a question that came out of a long discussion that we had. So, I take issue with your [humility]!
THR: Mr. Freeman, you have played and voiced God more times than most, so I have to ask you about that controversial topic. Is it possible to believe in science and God?
Freeman: Well, Einstein did! Einstein saw proof of God’s existence. I don’t think that having a scientific bend necessarily precludes your belief in a God. There are a lot of scientists who are firm believers.
THR: And where do you fall on that question?
Freeman: I believe in God, but I don’t believe in a Creator – how is that?
THR: Does it bother you that, even in 21st century America, where we have more access to scientific knowledge and education than any people who ever lived, there are still millions and millions of people who reject evolution and global warming and other things that science has pretty much established?
Freeman: Well, it doesn’t "bother" me. I mean you’re never going to convince everybody of everything. There are always going to be people who are pretty much speaking their own beliefs or systems. So, no, it doesn’t really bother me -- unless they control of the world. Then it gets problematic.
THR: In the wake of the Trayvon Martin situation and a lot of other things that are going on in the country, people are saying that we need to have a national discussion about race. Is there a scientific rhyme or reason for why people are still behaving in such stupid ways when it comes to race?
Freeman: That’s one I have not been able to figure out and I don’t think I could converse intelligently on because it’s a mystery to me, that in 21st century America we’re somehow stuck in the 19th century somewhere, in large part.
Younger: We did do a show in season three called “Can We Eliminate Evil?” which talked about why people behave in certain ways in societies. So, we’ve touched around the subject. There’s definitely a scientific angle that we can take on this.
THR: Is there an episode of Through the Wormhole that you feel best exemplifies what you guys do, particularly from your Emmy-nominated season four?
Freeman: For me, no. I can’t pick out an episode and say, “This one you’ve got to watch.” I could probably come closer to picking out six or seven.
THR: Finally, as somebody who has already won pretty much every award that there is in the world of film, would it be particularly meaningful to you if this show, which is clearly a passion project of yours, is rewarded by the TV community?
Freeman: Absolutely. It’s a surreal feeling and it’s very encouraging to receive notice from the TV community that you’re doing good work. Any time you get that good pat on the back for work well done, it’s encouraging. You just want to go out and keep doing it!
Sundance: On the Scene