Arts Express: Morgan Freeman Talks 5 Flights Up

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Morgan Freeman has made quite a career of playing all sorts of surprising and unusual turns in movies, and his romantic leading guy opposite Diane Keaton in Richard Loncraine’s 5 Flights Up is no exception.

And in which the lifelong marital bond between this devoted film couple is challenged not by the usual emotional issues, but rather aging with dignity and purpose. And facing the mounting ordeal of well, living on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator and making it up those many flights of stairs every day. At least for Morgan Freeman.

The distinguished actor stopped by to talk about what sparked his interest in this story, along with playing opposite a canine, the very different sort of nudity in this movie, and exactly how thrilling it was to anticipate ‘Miss It’ herself as your leading lady, 5 flights and all.

Hey Morgan, how are you?

MORGAN FREEMAN: I’m good, how are you? You’re looking good.

Thank you. So Morgan, this movie is a love story, but it’s also about bigotry. How do you feel about that?

MF: Bigotry? Bigotry is a fact of life. And that we go off half cocked, with little information. In situations like that.

And that prime minister of old, Winston, is supposed to have said, if you have a problem and there is no solution, then you no longer have a problem. It’s a fact of life.

And I think bigotry is a problem with no solution. Because we are hard wired to be bigoted. So in some way or another, it will always be with us.

I mean, when the color of my skin or your skin no longer bothers anybody, we’ll go to eyes. Or length of hair.

You know, there is always going to be something. So, I am going to have some way to keep you out of my theater. Okay…Let’s start again! Shoot!

morgan freeman diane keaton
Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton in Richard Loncraine’s 5 Flights Up

Alright, why this movie, 5 Flights Up, about having a tough time getting older and hardly being able to climb those apartment stairs any longer?

MF: It was a nice little script. And I thought it was a wonderful story. About two people, an interesting couple.

But it was originally just a Jewish couple. And that would have been very dull!

How come?

MF: If you throw in the mixed couple, that it’s someone who got married forty years ago when it wasn’t quite so okay, then it gets a little more interesting. Don’t you think so?

Well, yes…

MF: Yeah, see! Then along with that, I had the opportunity to grab Diane Keaton – ‘Miss It!’ to play the role of Ruth.

And that was…I could die now! You know? I mean, she is like one of the major feathers in my own cap. Yeah, so that’s why I’m in this movie.

How about when Diane’s character poses for you nude as a model, and you start getting turned on by her. And she says, why would you want me? And you’re like, because you’re real?

MF: Yeah. And the other thing about this whole relationship, is that these two people are obviously friends. Yep.

And they just held on to that friendship thing. From the moment she looked at him and said to his reply, good answer!

And it’s all there. And she’s been painting the apartment, and the nude he’s still painting of her. That’s all I have to say!

And Diane has never been married, but she pulled off being in a marriage in a really genuine way.

MF: That’s alright, she’s been lucky! That’s good. But it’s all right, she’s been in love and that’s good enough!

Okay, here’s a question…

MF: Go ahead!

You two are dog lovers both on and off screen. And fretting over your movie pet. So have you ever had fears like that about a pet of your own real life?

MF: Oh, good lord. My dog got hit by a car one night. Just knocked over one whole block away. Yeah.

She was a big dog, a strong dog, and she survived that. But man, I had to get her to the hospital.

And I had to spend most of the rest of the night talking to her. You know, so she wouldn’t die.

Because generally dogs are gonna die from shock. And they can survive internal injuries, broken bones, and all that.

But shock will get ’em. So in order to make my dog stay with me, I stayed there two or three hours, talking to her.

And telling her, you gotta keep cool. I’m gonna be here, don’t worry about it. And the next day when I called, they said, she’s good. Yeah.

My dog was so well trained, that’s what got her almost killed. Because I had a habit of showing her off, she was so good.

So we would go to Broadway here in NY, and play at the median. It was up at 85th and Broadway, that’s where I lived.

And so, I could just go near the corner, and she would go to the corner and spin away. And I would say, go ahead.

And so she would go over and, you know, do what she had to do. And come back and wait for me, to sit in my lap.

So this guy was at this hot dog stand. And we were talking, and I was waving my hands, and shit.

And when I looked out of the corner of my eye, she was standing there waiting. And she saw my hand hand go up, and she started running.

So dogs resonate with me. Like I saw Rosie Perez yesterday. And she said she couldn’t keep watching this movie.

You know, because she was so concerned about the dog! She was like, is the dog gonna die, does the dog die? Let me know if the dog dies!

Did you bond with your dog in the movie, and how did you feel about him?

MF: A good walker! He was cool, he was very cool at walking. I worked with a dog up at Greenwood Lake.

And there were two dogs. One who could do one thing, and one who could do the other thing. But neither one of them could do anything!

So I said to the trainer one day, I said this dog is not trained. This dog is hungry.

Because it was always looking like it was starved for food. And he said, I wouldn’t do that.

But I raised a sixty pound dog, in an apartment in New York. It can be done! As long as they have exercise.

And a big dog has to have real exercise. So I used to run her with my bicycle in the park. Yeah, yeah.

What about that movie dog, I hear he kept putting his tongue in Diane’s mouth?

MF: She had no problem with the dog’s tongue in her mouth!

Okay…What’s he up to now?

MF: I don’t know. I wish I did!

Now your big challenge in this movie, is getting up those five flights of stairs all the time. So what’s a challenge like that for you in real life?

MF: Getting to work!

What about Diane, what do you think are her real challenges?

MF: No challenges! Or I don’t know, a lot of challenges! And she just can’t separate the biggest challenges out!

Okay, thank you.

MF: No, no wait. We were just getting started! Okay, where are these people taking me off to next!

Time to go? One minute to spare? Okay then, let’s go. Thank you very much! Alrighty…

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.