In addition to his ongoing efforts as one of the most respected actors of his generation, Morgan Freeman also continues to make a healthy living as a narrator. At present, his most high-profile gig in the field is Through The Wormhole on The Science Channel. The series returns for its third season later in 2012, but to keep viewers excited until then, a special all-new episode will pop up on March 6 as part of a special week of Science Channel programming revolving around the eternal question “Are We Alone?” The A.V. Club recently spoke with Freeman about how he came to the series, what concepts have blown his mind, and which branch of science inspires him to use an obscenity as a descriptor.
The A.V. Club: You’ve been doing your part to educate audiences since your days as Easy Reader on The Electric Company.
Morgan Freeman: [Smiles.] Y’see there? I was in teaching mode even back then. I’m not a stranger to this.
AVC: So how did you get involved in this particular educational initiative?
MF: Well, I was following behind the people from the Science Channel, just sort of being led by the nose. [Laughs.] We have a film company that was going to try and have our own Science Channel, one that was going to deal with this kind of subject matter—outer space, the cosmos, etc.—but then subsequently, along come the Discovery people, going, “Didn’t I hear that you…?” So they asked if we wanted to develop it. And of course, the answer was yes.
AVC: Is that the same production company with which you were developing the film version of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama?
MF: Yes, Revelations Entertainment. That’s it.
AVC: The Science Channel’s goal from the get-go has been to blend the so-called “rock stars of science” with stars from pop culture.
MF: And it works very well. Because these heavy hitters in science, they just love having this outlet. So we go to them, and… [Snaps fingers.] The response has been wonderful.
AVC: Through The Wormhole tackles some amazing concepts. Which ones blew your mind the most?
MF: Well, all of them blow my mind. And in the new season, we’re going to be talking about things like… nothing. [Smiles.] What is nothing? Is there such a thing as nothing? You know that once you think about nothing, it’s something. So things like that. Can we resurrect the dead? Or can we live forever, for instance. This is a concept that is thought of as a reality, so if you consider that and then you think about the idea of space travel, the two won’t work very well together. Let’s see, what else have we got coming up? Will we survive first contact? Is there such a thing as a “superior race”? There was a theory where some scientists say, “At some point, because of population growth, we’re going to be so densely packed that we’ll actually live more like a hive.” So instead of having a superior race, all these brains will meld together on some level, just like ants or bees, and we’ll have a superior species. Heavy stuff. [Laughs.]
AVC: How collaborative is the series? Do you pitch your own questions?
MF: Yes, I do. We all do. And we go out with those questions and look for the answers. But these are questions that are being asked by scientists anyway. I don’t care what kind of question you ask: If it’s scientific, then there’s somebody out there already dealing with it, and they’re generally easy to find. So yeah, it’s all collaborative.
AVC: Are there specific questions that you yourself have brought to the table?
MF: Uh, yes. And we’re still fighting over whether we’re going to delve into it. [Laughs.] It’s the question of if there’s a separation between space and the universe. I say there is, and scientists say there isn’t. They say space and the universe are one thing. But I say if you’re talking about an expanding universe, then what is it expanding into? [Whispers.] You’ve got to have space.
AVC: Sounds like a season-four episode.
MF: [Laughs.] Yeah, but they used the analogy of a balloon on me. If you just think about the surface of a balloon, if you blow it up, then the surface of the balloon is expanding, and that’s space. But the surface of the balloon is expanding into space, isn’t it? We’ve got to get into that argument eventually. I’ve got that into my head. We’re gonna hash it out. But it’s probably gonna take pikes. Maybe even swords and maces.
AVC: Can we get that as a special feature on the DVD?
MF: Why not? [Laughs.]
AVC: You undoubtedly learn something new with every episode, but are there any facts—either in the new season or in the past—that have particularly fascinated you?
MF: Almost all of them. [Laughs.] Michio [Kaku], he fascinates me. His mind is really clear, and he talks about the possibility of first contact and what that might mean to us. A lot of people think, “Okay, listen, there’s nothing to say that some extra-terrestrials won’t come here and be hostile to us. We could very well be fodder.” On the other hand, why would they bother to come this distance and try to eliminate us when we’re probably what they’re looking for, in terms of another intelligence?
AVC: Let’s hope the fact that you narrated War Of The Worlds doesn’t have any impact on their decision.
MF: Well, that was just the opening. Hopefully they missed that. [Laughs.]
AVC: In the ’70s, viewers had to make do with series like In Search Of, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, which was a handful of facts surrounded by a lot of sensational theories.
MF: Yeah, we also deal with theories. General theories, but they’re well thought out. You’re always going to come to a brick wall with theoretical science, though. For example, the theory of everything. Where is it? We’re still looking for it. Thirty years ago, scientists promised us they had wrapped the entire universe. We knew exactly how much matter there was, what it weighed, and all of that. And then along comes the Hubble telescope, and they discovered that there was more matter than you could see through the bowl of the Big Dipper than they had calculated for the whole universe. So all we’re learning is that we don’t know what we know.
AVC: That’s very comforting.
MF: [Laughs.] Well, you know, think back to when the earth was flat. That was a fact, until it wasn’t. Same with the sun circling the earth. And that’s continuing. So is evolution. Everything is changing. So there’s always going to be more somethings to learn. We’re never going to learn it all.
AVC: You’ve obviously been fascinated with science for some time, but do you have any specific scientific background?
MF: Oh, no. No, no, no. I don’t have the science mind. I don’t have the kind of mind that can deal with science. Physics, however, is not what I would call one of your life sciences, like chemistry or biology are. Or archaeology. But physics? Physics is more of a… [Hesitates.] Can I say “fuck”?
AVC: Sure, why not?
MF: Physics is more of a mind-fuck. And, you know, I get off on that. [Laughs.] Everybody’s giggling about that. But that’s the best way I can put it! It’s a fascinating subject, and I think you could interest a lot of young minds in it.
AVC: Well, sure. Especially if you use the F-word.
MF: [Bursts out laughing.] I suppose so.
AVC: The computer graphics in the show—
MF: Aren’t they fantastic? We’ve got just fabulous people working on it. Because, you know, something like this… Seriously, you do excite people’s minds with this material. People really want to get involved in it.
AVC: Given the terminology involved, I’m sure even a professional narrator such as yourself stumbles once in a while when doing the recording for the episodes.
MF: Oh, sure. It doesn’t happen consistently, though. I think I’m quite adept at much of the terminology. Some of the names will get me, but when it comes to the normal terminology… you know, I just slow down and e-nun-ci-ate. [Laughs.]