Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman Invictus Press ConferenceMorgan, I understand since 1993 you felt you were the perfect person to play Nelson Mandela and it’s taken this long to find the right way to do it. Can you talk about that journey?
Morgan Freeman: "Nobody else is gonna get a chance to talk. This started out with Madiba naming me as his heir apparent, so to speak, when he was asked during the press conference at the publication of his book, Long Walk to Freedom. 'Mr. Mandela, if your book becomes a movie, who would you like to play you?' He said, 'Morgan Freeman.' So, from then on, it’s like, 'Okay, so Morgan Freeman is going to be Mandela somewhere down the line.'"
"We spent a lot of time, Lori (McCreary) and I, my producing partner at Revelations. We were trying all this time to develop Long Walk to Freedom into a script. Couldn’t happen. Then, in ’06 I believe, we got this book proposal from John Carlin and it was perfect. We bought it. We got a script written. And, this was the role to play to give the world an insight into who Mandela is and how he operates. It was perfect."
Matt, can you talk about having a real life sports hero who’s unknown maybe outside of South Africa – at least in America – and taking on the challenge of doing that role?
Matt Damon: "Well, the first thing I did when I read the script was I called Clint and I said, 'I can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe this is true.' And he said, 'I couldn’t either, but this is true.' So, I went immediately and looked up Francois [Pienaar] online and I said, 'Clint, this guy is huge. We’ve never met, but I’m 5’10.' I told him on the phone and he started laughing and he said, 'Oh hell, don’t worry about that.' I said, 'All right.' He said, 'You go worry about everything else.' And I said, 'All right, I’ll worry about everything else. You worry about the fact that I need to grow 6 inches to play the guy.'"
"I had about six months to get ready. I worked hard on the accent and on training physically to build myself up to try to pull off the illusion of being the captain of a South African rugby team. Ultimately, I just try to look at every possible pitfall. When I’m way, way out, say six months away, I look at what could possibly blow this illusion? What are the things? And then, I start thinking about ways to solve those problems before I really get into it. So, I kind of made my little checklist of things I had to do and just planned it out and then I got to South Africa. The very first day, Francois invited me over to his house for a gourmet dinner that he was cooking. He invited me to meet his wife and two boys. Morgan and I went. I just remember I rang the doorbell and he opened the door and I looked up at him, and the first thing I ever said to Francois Pienaar in my life was, 'I look much bigger on film.' And he laughed and laughed, and he gave me a big hug and then took me into his house and that was it. We were off and running."
"He was just an invaluable resource for me the whole time. I was constantly asking him questions – everything from what color is your mouth piece to what’s your philosophy on the captaincy and on leading a team and life in general. He just was incredibly available and a very articulate guy, and he was incredibly helpful to me."
In doing your research for it, did that include the accent?
Matt Damon: "Yeah, well Francois’ accent has changed quite a bit because he went and played in England for so many years. Everybody – all of his closest friends and his wife – everybody says, 'Well, you know, his accent has changed quite a bit.' And, listening to any existing interviews from that day, you can hear how it’s changed. But there was a good key to that. Tim and I, the dialect coach, talked a lot about [how] a lot of people, when they do a South African accent, really overdo it and end up making somebody sound like Frankenstein. It’s actually a quite beautiful accent. We talked about smoothing it out, because Francois speaks quite smoothly, and borrowing some of that and trying to make it so that it’s subtle, so that it’s not so over the top where you’re just like, 'Wait a minute. That’s a little big.'"
You’ve always described acting as playing, which is nice to hear. When you play Nelson Mandela, does it become more than that?
Morgan Freeman: "No. It might have become more than that were I…was I…?"
Matt Damon: "…were I."
Morgan Freeman: "…were I?"
Matt Damon: "I think."
Morgan Freeman: "Were I is plural. I never could figure that one out… Were I playing or working with someone other than Clint Eastwood. He is so enabling. He is so out of your way as an actor and he likes to watch actors play. I don’t think I do anything other than that when I’m working. I’m just playing. Work is something else. Work is maybe what you do."