The ridiculously talented duo of Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman both established their chops in the theatre, in new York and London, respectively, and both have directed an acclaimed film: Freeman's 1993 Bopha! and Oldman's 1997 Nil by Mouth. Among numerous theatrical triumphs, Freeman originated the role of Hoke Colburn in Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Driving Miss Daisy (Freeman reprised the role in the 1989 film version) and recently played Petruchio opposite Tracey Ullman in The Taming of the Shrew. Freeman created the beloved character Easy Reader on PBS's children's show The Electric Company, but permanently left that image behind in his much-lauded performance as the violent pimp Fast Black in Street Smart. Other film credits include Glory, The Shawshank Redemption, Amistad, Deep Impact, Nurse Betty, and The Sum of All Fears. Freeman also headlined two popular "Alex Cross" thrillers: Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Earlier this year, Freeman won his first Oscar for Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, and he currently appears opposite Jet Li in Unleashed and, in Batman Begins, as Lucius Fox. Oldman's chameleonic skill led to collaborations with Mike Leigh (Meantime), Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy), Stephen Frears (Prick Up Your Ears), Nicholas Roeg (Track 29), Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead), Oliver Stone (JFK), Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker's Dracula), and Sir Ridley Scott (Hannibal). Other films include The Contender, Lost in Space, Air Force One, The Fifth Element and Léon (both for Luc Besson), Immortal Beloved (as Ludwig van Beethoven), Romeo Is Bleeding, and True Romance. Oldman played Sirius Black in the blockbuster Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and reprises the role in this year's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and plays the role of Det. Sgt. Jim Gordon in the refreshed Batman franchise. Oldman hobbled around the L.A. junket for Batman Begins on a cane, due to recent foot surgery to correct a five-year-old Hawaiian surfing injury. A trouper, Oldman dutifully plopped down with Freeman to regale the press.
Groucho: Can each of you take us through the personal process you used to shape your character, and how helpful, if at all, were the comics?
MF: Were the comics?
MF: Mmm. Me first.
GO: Go on, then.
MF: I don't have to do anything. The character is shaped on the page. All you have to do is lift it off. You don't have to do anything at all except decide whether you're going to shave or not shave, comb your hair one way or another way. Someone's gonna put the clothes on you. Part of being an actor is wearing costumes. Costumes tell you an awful lot about who you are. So you just—it's nothing. I think, basically, it's get out of the way if you can. Right? That's my answer.
GO: Well, I went to—I lived in Chicago for a year, and I studied with the police academy—.
GO: No, ditto. I read—the script is your map of the world.
MF: Yeah, yeah.
GO: And if someone knows—if it's well written...you get all the beats...it will tell you everything you need to know. And then Chris goes and hires Lindy Hemmings, who's a great costume designer, so you're not there for four days, turning, saying, "No, that doesn't work. That doesn't work." She's got a great sense of how you might dress, so she offers up three jackets or a suit, and you go—you know what? I think I went with the first shirt or tie or something that I put on, and I went—
MF: "This feels good."
GO: "We got it."
MF: (Laughs.) Right. Right. Let me ask a question, based on this. Did you ever ask an actor this question and get a lot of intellectual response?
MF: You do?
G: Sometimes, yeah.
GO: I think also it depends on...I mean, people talk about research and you—I, one time in my career, played a heroin addict. And I was not going to take heroin. But I met people who were taking it. And I hung out with people who had recovered from it. And I said to someone "What's it like being on heroin?" And this woman—ten people tried to explain it to me, and the woman said to me, "Imagine your spine wrapped in cotton wool"—
GO: And I went, "Got it. I've got it." Now I know how to act that. I know what that sensation—if acting isn't intellectual, it's a feeling. And it's a sensation....You could read twenty books on Denmark and Hamlet and Shakespeare and all the rest of you, but on the night when the curtain goes up, they're not going to help you stand there and say, "To be or not to be." So when you ask a question like that, you say, "But how do you make that work?" He's talented. It's not any more mysterious than that. (Laughs.)
MF: Interesting. 'Cause I played a heroin addict once too. And it's the same thing, you know, you don't—. People will say—you watch them, they're smoking marijuana. And get wrong. You know, it's like "Whoa, whoa. Smoke doesn't do that to you." Snorting cocaine—they get wrong. Coke doesn't do that to you. So you're using heroin. What does happen? I don't know. So you have to go to somebody who knows intimately the whole process: what it's like when you first shoot, what happens afterwards, what happens when you're coming down—you gotta learn all that. And somebody can tell you, just like the woman who finally got up and said, "Imagine your spine wrapped in cotton"—if you can do that, then you got it, you know. A guy told me, he said, "When you first shoot up, it's a complete sexual experience." So it's like—heh. Then it happened, you know?
G: When you're back in your old stomping grounds of London, is there anything you're always sure to do?
GO: Uhm. (Pause.) Avoid the rain. Yes, sleep (laughs)—about all. Not really much—there wasn't really much to—I was in a sort of state of sort of odd jet lag. Maybe that's why my performance is so subdued.
MF: Mmmmm-mnn. You're not really just joking here.
GO: No. That I used it. And I went—do you remember I talked to you about that?
GO: Yeah, I talked about—I said, "I'm so sort of, you know, exhausted from this thing," and he [ed.: Nolan] wanted a weariness.
MF: Yesss. Perfect.
GO: Hey, you know?
MF: That's why you get the big bucks, Gary.
GO: But it's tough at the middle.
GO: Thank you, guys!
MF: Thank you.
[For the complete L.A. junket press conference transcript, click here.]
[For Groucho's review of Batman Begins, click here.]