A Conversation with Morgan Freeman about Nat Geo series, THE STORY OF GOD
Who is God? Where did we come from? Why does evil happen? What happens when we die? Every human being on earth has asked themselves these questions at some point, and most likely each person has found a different answer. This spring, National Geographic Channel and Revelation Entertainment’s epic series The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, produced by Freeman, Lori McCreary and James Younger, will take viewers on a trip around the world to explore different cultures and religions on the ultimate quest to uncover the meaning of life, God and all these big questions in between.
Morgan Freeman, who produces and hosts the series, answers questions about the genesis of the show, what audiences can expect, as well as how he relates to God.
Q: When did the idea for The Story of God first start to take shape?
Morgan Freeman: I think the idea first took root when Lori [Lori McCreary, co-founder, along with Freeman, of Revelations Entertainment] and I were in Istanbul five or six years ago. We were visiting the Hagia Sophia, a museum that, 1,400 years ago, was built as a church cathedral and then, in 1935, was transformed into a mosque. While observing the museum’s frescoes, we noticed that many of their portrayals were of biblical stories usually associated with only the Jewish and Christian faiths. Lori asked our tour guide if these had been covered up during the time that it was used as a mosque. The man said no, that Muslims celebrated these stories, too. And we were both quite surprised that we didn’t know how much history and narrative the three faiths have in common. Now, from there, Lori and James [James Younger, director and executive vice president at Revelations Entertainment] developed the idea, thinking that a documentary about God, one that focused on telling the stories from myriad perspectives, could be very interesting. At some point, they asked me if I would be interested in not only narrating the film but also starring in it, too; and, well, I said yes.
Q: How do you personally relate to God’s story?
Freeman: I call myself a lifelong student of religion. But I haven’t landed on any conclusions. I can relate to the big questions that most of us ask ourselves at some point in our lives: Why am I here? What’s my purpose? How did we get here? Those questions resonate with me. And while science has produced answers to many of the big questions that people have asked throughout history, it doesn’t offer answers for everything.
Like for instance, when I was at the Vatican, I was talking to Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo [the Vatican’s chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences], and I thought what he said about the big bang was interesting. He was very clear in his explanation that the big bang does not explain away creation — because it doesn’t explain what existed before the big bang. I’ve wondered about that, too — if all of the matter that exists in the universe condensed down to a dot, where did that dot come from? You can’t answer that question. So, for me, God is the great mystery — the term that we use to talk about the great mystery.
Q: How did you decide on the individual themes that the episodes focus on?
Freeman: The six themes we landed on are driven by the fundamental questions that we humans have been asking ourselves since the beginning: Creation—how did we get here? Resurrection—what happens after we die? Apocalypse—will the universe eventually come to an end? Evil—why do we do bad things, and how does morality arise out of religion? And so forth.
Q: Over the last 40 days of filming, what have been some of your most memorable moments?
Freeman: Believe it or not, I felt more in tune with what I experienced at Joel Osteen’s church than I have felt at any other location. I just think I can see why his message resonates with so many people. And in meeting him, I thought, “this guy’s for real.” But you know, I’ve thought that about a lot of the people we’ve met along this journey — and there have been many visuals and memories from the trip that linger, too. For instance, boating down the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, was fascinating. Seeing the rituals happening up along the shore — the cremations, the faithful bathing, people doing commercial laundry — that was all very interesting to me. And I loved walking down all of the little narrow streets in India, seeing the various merchants and temples and holy men. I also thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Vatican and my conversation with Monsignor Sorondo.
Q: Did you have any expectations going into this experience?
Freeman: No. Throughout this whole experience, I’ve not walked into any location or conversation with expectations because I think it’s very important for me to remain impartial. I’m not here to impose my thoughts onto the audience — my job is to tell the story well.
Because this documentary is not about me. This is The Story of God. I don’t think I’d be doing my job if I was I constantly interjecting the conversation with my thoughts and opinions and ideas. That’s not what I’m here for. And in the rare moment when I do offer my thoughts, I’ve tried to do so with questions, not conclusive ideas.
Q: Have there been any surprises for you?
Freeman: I am not sure I would say it was a surprise, but what I have found fascinating through this journey is how many other people have these same questions. We are all in search of our truth. I found that a very unifying and surprising revelation as I was on this journey.
Q: What do you hope the audience will take away from The Story of God?
Freeman: That’s always a tricky question because I don’t want to expect anything from the audience, especially in terms of what they take away. Expectations always feel a little egotistical. But that said, my hope, I suppose, is that the audience will connect and find value in The Story of God because I connected and found value in making The Story of God. If we’ve done our job, there will be many ways to for people to connect to and find value in this documentary. But I hope they will watch. And that the story and film speaks for itself.
The Story of God with Morgan Freeman will air globally in the spring on National Geographic Channels in 171 countries in 45 languages, and in Spanish on Nat Geo Mundo.