SO FAR, actor Morgan Freeman has played God twice (Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty), Nelson Mandela once (Invictus) and the only African-American US president (Deep Impact). Now he's back to play Lucius Fox, the brains behind the tricks and tools Batman uses in Christopher Nolan's third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.
"Throughout the trilogy, Lucius Fox has equipped Batman with his ever-evolving resources, from his Batsuit, to the Tumbler, to the agile Batpod, which enabled the Dark Knight to manoeuvre through the streets of Gotham City," says a clearly chuffed Freeman. "Now, in this film, he can finally navigate above them all, via his new airborne vehicle - part helicopter, part jump jet. It's called The Bat.
"Although Lucius works for Bruce Wayne, he has also been a bit of a father figure for him. Bruce is still a relatively young man, so Lucius tries to keep his moral compass pointed in the right direction while trying to pull him out of the dark emotional place he's been in."
Freeman comes across as charming, urbane and immensely likeable. There's something very "real" about the man who has been an Academy Award nominee three times, for The Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy and Street Smart.
"I always wonder how people come up with my name for films like this? I'm hardly blockbuster stuff and I'm very happy to be Wayne Enterprises' inventor. Chris (Nolan) delivered the script. It came as a big surprise, and I was like, 'Wow, yes please'. I was thrilled."
Freeman talks fast and easily in a raspy bass -baritone voice and uses his long fingers like a jazz pianist. He is much taller (1,9m ) than I had imagined. With his gold earring, something he's worn for as long as he cares to recall, and freckled cheeks, he seems happy with his lot. And it doesn't really matter what the film is like - it's worth the price of the ticket just to see this actor.
Nolan (Memento/Inception) has managed to reinvent and freshen the franchise with its giant star-studded cast and eye-boggling action. Christian Bale plays the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, Anne Hathaway is Selina Kyle, Tom Hardy is Bane and Marion Cotillard is Miranda Tate. Then there are Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Conti, Juno Temple and Freeman.
"We were all very excited to bring this story full circle, because we wanted to fulfil audience expectations."
Freeman, 75, made his Broadway debut in the 1967 Pearl Bailey revival of Hello Dolly!, but he didn't break through in film until the age of 50 with Driving Miss Daisy. He came with a legacy of discipline from having been in the US Air Force as a radar mechanic.
"Discipline is a fine thing to learn and to incorporate into your life. I don't react very well to regimentation and I question authority, but I have a sense of discipline, which is a good thing to have."
He also has a history of tolerance built up looking for the right role through a long list of short-run stage shows, kids' TV, bad films, money issues and an alcoholism problem that came to a head when he woke up face down, dead drunk in his doorway.
"There was no way out but down so I quit drinking. But I guess I had to do it all to get here now. There is no way to go back and redo that or say: 'Well, if this hadn't happened then that wouldn't have happened'. Your goal when you are struggling to be an actor is to get any job, any commercial, anything. Whatever you are doing that is not to do with acting, your main ambition is to get away from that and to steer yourself towards what is your main life's ambition, to be a performer and to be paid for it. My ambition, 50 years ago, was to get up every day doing something that I wanted to do, not something I had to do. Then one day I got an audition and I got a job and that was it, I was home."
Freeman was born in Memphis, where his parents were working as hospital aides, but grew up in Mississippi, close to where he lives now, in Charleston. He divorced his wife of nearly 25 years, designer Myrna Colley-Lee, in 2010.
"I went back to Mississippi when I got a bit of cash because that's my home. When I'm not working I'm having a good time down with the horses on the 44 acre (17ha) farm I have down there. I like to write, I have a 38-foot sailboat docked in the Virgin Islands, I have a family, four grown-up children (from a former marriage) who are all doing well, and grandchildren. I also co-own a restaurant, Madidi, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, as well as a blues club called Ground Zero, which is a funky juke joint, also in Mississippi, at the legendary crossroads of the Delta blues. I was raised just down the road in Greenwood, where the sound of blues was part of my childhood. The music from here is the basis for the great American music - jazz, rock, soul - and when live music became harder to find I linked up with a friend (local attorney Bill Luckett) and we decided we would open a place to hear music. We wanted to get it real authentic. It's pretty ho down, in fact the Snack Bar sign on the wall used to hang in the gambling club my stepfather ran. It was really exciting getting it up and running."
As for what excites him now, he gulps back some mineral water and laughs huskily. "Ya know - I'm like a kid living my big dreams. I've got all my fingers and toes, I can see, I can hear and I can smell. I can diversify, move about, expand. I'm very happy with my life! It's exciting. Hell, I've even been alongside my friend Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby as a couple of old boxers with a gym in Los Angeles. Clint and I have no problems with self-assessment. We are both guys whose pants go on one leg at a time.
"For so long, the struggle was to get work, get diversity in roles. When I started, Sidney Poitier was the only black star. Nowadays we seem to have a bit more access. I don't see that I'm thought of as just a black actor or hired out as a black actor. Anyway, in Hollywood the only colour that talks is green - dollar-green. Nothing else matters. I don't want to be a role model for black people, black actors. Sure, there are roles denied to black actors, quite a few, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and, I suppose, Hamlet. But I think the industry is making a concerted push towards 'inclusiveness'.
"I certainly don't want to be thought of as something limiting; black actor. I'd much rather be thought of as somebody with a wide range of acting abilities. But we all know every job is the last until you get the next one! My advice - look for work."
. The Dark Knight Rises opens in SA tomorrow.