When Morgan Freeman isn’t starring in movies, he’s often lending his voice to documentaries. But lately, he has been transitioning into more of an interviewer role. He did this with the very successful The Story of God for National Geographic. Now, he’s back with The Story of Us.
This new documentary series looks into shared experiences of humanity all over the world. That includes the pursuit of freedom, love, and more. Freeman talks to many extraordinary people about their experiences. Though some stories start out terrible, all of the participants have now come out on the other side, which makes the series uplifting.
On Sept. 28, 2017, The Cheat Sheet caught up with Freeman, executive producer Lori McCreary, executive producer James Younger, and a few people included in the documentary at PaleyFest. Here are seven things you should know about the documentary.
1. Morgan Freeman says the show is meant to fight indifference
Q: You traveled the world as an actor. What was it like traveling for this specific project?
Morgan Freeman: Traveling the world as an actor, you don’t meet the people you meet when traveling the world doing this kind of documentary material. Here, I’m actually sitting down with people, their families, meeting even neighborhoods sometimes. Totally different experience, totally different!
Q: It seems like from the trailer, that love is a very big theme throughout the whole thing. Why love? Why not hope?
James Younger: I think hope is part of it too. We’re looking at the fundamental ideas, forces, motivators that shaped human society, so love is really foundational. But also there are other things we aspire to like freedom. Right? Because tonight, we’re talking about the film about freedom. Like what do humans hope to do? That’s a big part of it. How do we hope for peace? Freedom? Hope to heal tribalism.
Lori McCreary: Love, I thin,k also let us look at familial love, romantic love, all different kinds of love. So it’s a big capsule under which we tell a lot of stories.
Freeman: Do you know what the antithesis of love is? You don’t know? Indifference.
2. President Clinton is also involved in the project
Q: You said during the panel that there are some people that appear in different episodes. Who is the most surprising person that you were like ‘Oh, I didn’t think their story was going to go there, where we can spread it over different episodes’?
McCreary: Yeah, President Clinton’s story. So the president — I’ve been yearning to hear somebody who is inspiring me as an American recently and I was kind of depressed today. I walked in when we were doing his interview and he started talking not only — we were interviewing him for the “Us and Them” episode and he started talking about America and freedom and what it means to kind of own who you are. So, we literally could have used President Clinton in every, literally, every episode!
Q: Are there any other presidents involved in this season?
McCreary: We met with the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame and, you know, they had the genocide in 1994 where, you know, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were killed in that horrible genocide and he spoke about reconciliation. And the thing that’s so amazing with this man is that he has a more peaceful country now than America is and they, in 1994, how many years ago was that? 23 years ago? They had a genocide where Rwandans, a section of the country killed off a section of the country and now they live together side by side.
Q: Does anything about this administration come up in this season?
McCreary: National Geographic, we try to be evergreen, so we do things like we shoot in 4k, so it looks really beautiful in 10 years even. And we try to really look at global issues that are recurring, so we don’t get into something that makes it feel dated.
3. EP Lori McCreary hopes there will be a second season
Q: You talked about how successful your first series was with Morgan Freeman. How much do you think that success was attributed to him or how much do you think it was the stories you were telling?
McCreary: Well, look, I’m biased because I’ve been working with Morgan for 25 years. But there’s something about Morgan that feels like home. There’s something about him that makes me, at least, feel like I’m talking to someone who I know and he’s my friend. And I think that for a lot of America, people feel connected to him in some way, and so I think that we can’t underestimate how much that pull was.
Q: You kind of hinted that you wanted a Season 2. What did you not get in Season 1 that you’re looking forward to, if given the opportunity?
McCreary: We didn’t go to the East at all, so I would love to go to China. I would love to go to Japan. I would love to go to Australia. There’s a lot of places we didn’t actually get to talk about the social structures there and the history there.
4. A former member of the Westboro Baptist Church is also part of the project
Megan Phelps-Roper previously was in the Westboro Baptists Church, but is now a social media activist focused on sharing her past and overcoming hatred.
Q: Was there any hesitation to share your story?
Megan Phelps-Roper: I do share it. I had just given this TED talk and, as I mentioned, one of the things I really try to do since I left the church almost five years ago now, is to find a way of using these experiences that were so destructive in so many people’s lives to try to use them for good. And so, if there’s any opportunity to use them to further this message of love and tolerance and understanding and compassion for the other, I think it’s important to do.
Q: How many days did it take to shoot your story?
Phelps-Roper: We shot it in one day. It was over the course of about five or six hours in Los Angeles. It was at a church, literally the only church in Los Angeles that I had been to not to protest. I protested at a lot of churches in Los Angeles at Westboro, but this is a church I hadn’t been.
Q: Was it the day of that you started talking to Morgan Freeman or did you somehow have some contact before?
Phelps-Roper: When you meet him, that really is when you’re meeting him for the first time. They wanted it to be real.
Q: If the audience can take one thing away from your story, what do you want it to be?
Phelps-Roper: That what we share as human beings is so much more powerful and so much more important than the things that divide us. We have to find ways, as difficult as it is, we have to find ways of engaging the other.
5. Hairdresser Joshua Coombes talks about his episode, ‘The Power of Love’
Joshua Coombes is a hairdresser who offers free haircuts to the homeless. He also started the hashtag #dosomethingfornothing.
Q: Do you already know the episode you’re in?
Joshua Coombes: Yes, it’s called ‘The Power of Love.’
Q: Before you did the show, did you think of what you were doing as an act of love?
Joshua Coombes: What I go out and d,o it is love. It is love. It’s very much love. It’s compassion, but it actually is love.
Q: How does it make you feel that someone of Morgan Freeman’s platform is doing stuff like this to put other people’s stories forward?
Joshua Coombes: I think anybody who has an audience and has people watching them, if you could use that in a good way, I mean, whether that’s actors or musicians or artists — the truth is, I think every human has a role. I think it’s about what world would you want to live in.
6. Victoria Khan says talking to Morgan Freeman was like free therapy
Victoria Khan is a transwoman who escaped violence in Afghanistan as a child and now shares her story.
Q: So your interview was right after all of your surgeries?
Victoria Khan: Yes.
Q: So this was all very new. What was it like to recount all of that when it was so fresh?
Khan: I just never thought the Western world would be interested in someone from that side of the world. It was interesting. It was therapy for me. Free therapy with Morgan Freeman. That’s what it was.
Q: And what was that free therapy like?
Khan: I can’t describe it. It was incredibly freeing. I never told my story to anybody prior to that. So first time with someone that big and that long, hours and hours was incredible. Freeing!
7. Khan’s unique story includes advice we can all use
Q: Morgan Freeman looked very shocked when you told him that you transitioned. Was that truly the first time he found out?
Khan: We didn’t meet prior. We just went straight to the camera room and that’s how we met. And it was so very raw and authentic. I thought he was just saying things to be nice. To me it was very, you know, I know I am a transgender woman, so I would assume he would know right away. To me, it was a very pleasant thing to hear.
Q: Do you have any anxiety whatsoever of your story being shared?
Khan: I do because I came from a different culture so we are like a thousand years behind as far as the — like, look, transgender is something you would never discuss in my culture. I am sad for that. I brought a light to my leader and my country, but not as a cisgender person. I brought it as a transgender woman and I feel a little bit like I let my country down a little bit. What can I do?
Q: So if there’s one takeaway you want people to leave with from your story, what would it be?
Khan: I think we are analyzing everything way too much. We need to let that go and life is too short.
Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice.
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