Morgan Freeman would like to tell you the story of it all | ET REALITY


Morgan Freeman’s rich, majestic voice has appeared in several documentaries over the years, about religion, Jewish refugees, and even penguins. The next has a scope and theme befitting a man popularly known as the voice of God: the entire history of life on Earth.

“Life on Our Planet,” an eight-part series that premiered Wednesday on Netflix, takes viewers through billions of years, beginning at the dawn of time. Beginning with individual cells in a primordial soup and moving through the age of dinosaurs and the development of human civilization, the series charts the rise and fall of countless species. As Freeman narrates, the show depicts the “great battles for survival and the dynasties that would take over the world.”

Produced by Silverback Films in association with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, the show relies on visual effects to evoke realistic prehistoric creatures, including woolly mammoths, a four-winged dinosaur called Anchiornis and, of course, Tyrannosaurus rex. Visual effects account for 30 to 40 percent of each episode; the remainder consists of footage filmed in 45 countries, including Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Morocco and the United Kingdom.

Despite the show’s title, this planetary saga frequently focuses on death. In scene after scene, predators stalk their prey: a flying reptile swoops down on an unsuspecting sea turtle, a crocodile eyes a wildebeest, and a squid pounces on a shrimp, the hunts charged with suspense by Freeman’s booming voice.

“The shrimp never saw it coming,” he says, as the squid enjoys its meal.

Death also affects entire species, with the show’s narrative marked by five mass extinctions that together kill millions of creatures. Each event destroys one group of animals and paves the way for another, moving from invertebrates to dinosaurs and, finally, to mammals.

Freeman, an Academy Award winner, hopes viewers will stick around long enough to see the series finale, when the show charts the rise of humans, the only species capable of causing its own mass extinction.

“It was said that God created the heavens and the earth and put man in control,” Freeman said in an interview this month. “If God really did that, it would be a big mistake, because in just a few million years we have almost created another extinction-level event.”

In a telephone interview from his home in Mississippi, Freeman spoke about the roots of his distinctive vocal style, his admiration for David Attenborough, and his fears about the future of our planet. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you decide to join this project?

Well, I’m interested in the planet itself and its history. I call myself a “planetist” because what worries me most is what is happening on Earth.

When did you first start worrying?

Oh, I don’t know when I first did it. It kind of surprises you, you know, to see how things are going. We all know about changing climates. That’s a human thing. No animal is causing it. We are causing it. And it is happening; we can see it now.

I’m curious about your routine when you’re narrating. What is your process?

There was a script. There was a studio microphone. Some of them require a lot of takes. Because if you read a paragraph and you slur a word or two, you have to go back and fix it. Particularly in this show, there are a lot of these creatures that have names that are a little maddening, I guess. I recorded in Mobile, Alabama. I also live on the Alabama coast, so if I get a job while I’m there, I’ll go to a studio I frequent in Mobile.

How many hours would you spend each day in the studio?

If I remember correctly, I was there for more than two days. Maybe two or three hours a day.

If you think back to previous documentaries you’ve narrated, which ones stand out to you?

I did “March of the Penguins” and it was incredible. I really learned quite a bit about how penguins live and interact.

One of the things that interested me about this series is that it goes back to the beginning of time and recreates these creatures through visual effects.

Oh dear, yes. When you’re narrating, it’s actually a learning process in itself. So these types of documentaries seem very interesting to me. Part of the joy of doing it is learning all that. You just absorb it and it falls into you somewhere.

What do you think is different between storytelling and acting?

When you are narrating, the important thing is to try to be clear and not speak in a monotone. I guess it’s a trick or a treat or something. I seem to be pretty good at it. I’m a big fan of David Attenborough. He has that ability to transmit information.

You are known for a very distinctive voice. How did you develop that?

When I was in school at Los Angeles Community College, I took theater arts classes, which included voice development. And I had a very good instructor there. That was the beginning.

How is your day?

I get up. Two or three times a week I go to the gym, exercise, stretch and play golf every day, weather permitting. Life has a routine: coffee, puzzles and stuff with my wife, and playing golf in the afternoons.

What do you hope people take away from this show?

How tenacious life is. If we can get enough information in time, things will probably change, but not for many of us. The planet itself is what is alive. And we don’t need to be here.

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