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It may take playing God to know one. Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman is taking his experience portraying the deity to explore various religions in the National Geographic documentary series he hosts, The Story of God With Morgan Freeman.
“I’ve always wondered about the existence of God. My grandmother was a stout religious person. My mother followed preachers around in the South, so I got to go to a lot of churches and see people who had all kinds of interactions with religion,” Freeman told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s just been like a fester in me.”
Now three seasons into the show, the actor and executive producers Lori McCreary and James Younger, who has worked with Freeman over the last 10 years, gathered Sunday night at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for a screening and Q&A presented by the American Cinematheque.
“National Geographic helps us open doors to places that we wouldn’t otherwise get into, because they have a great brand, but Morgan unlocks people’s hearts,” McCreary said during the Q&A. “When you’re sitting with him, whether there’s lights around or not, we found that when people are talking to Morgan, everything goes away, and there’s this deep connection Morgan makes on the soul level.”
This connection was featured in the screening of the show’s third-season episode Gods Among Us, when the host came face-to-face with a 5-year-old in Nepal who is considered by many a goddess on Earth.
“They told me outside before I went in the building, ‘Tradition has it that if this child has an expression, she has a reaction to seeing you, it could mean bad karma for you.’ Think, just for a minute about that, and me there with a baby! I’m sure she’s never seen anything like me before! So, what would happen if I walk in and she goes…?” Freeman said with a shocked expression, followed by a chorus of laughter. “Luckily, she didn’t do anything.”
In the episode, Freeman also found himself in Israel, at the remains of a 3rd-century church led by women, cementing the earliest account of Christ depicted as God. Later the actor was in Hanoi, Vietnam, conversing with a woman considered a ??o M?u medium between believers and their gods.
“I tried to make myself a vessel. Coming from the outside, the tendency would be to be judgmental about how people are manifesting whatever they believe,” Freeman said.
The Story of God has been used as a diplomatic tool in addition to a form of entertainment. The U.K.’s House of Parliament invited the showrunners and Freeman to participate in a governmental meeting concerning religious freedom and tolerance because of the show’s ability to demonstrate the unifying, rather than divisive, powers of religion, Younger told THR.
“[Our] job is just to show you what we can and then you make up your mind, what you get out of this experience. We went all over the planet, listening to people explain basically their idea of how you get to heaven,” Freeman said. “Every human on the planet, all of us, have a system that allows us to live forever. I’ve come to the conclusion that we as humans cannot conceive not being.”
Along the way, Freeman, who has long identified himself as agnostic, discovered his religion: Zoroastrianism. “It is a belief system that is intrinsically me: ‘Good thoughts, good words, good deeds’ pretty much sums it up,’” he said.
The third season of The Story of God With Morgan Freeman can now be streamed at nationalgeographic.com. The first two seasons are also on Netflix.
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