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Wisdom is something of a specialty for Morgan Freeman. He's 75, and these days most of his movie roles cast him as a sage older man dispensing the insights of a long life.
In real life, Freeman says, he has indeed learned a thing or two. "For one thing," he says, "I know now that life is short, so you'd really better enjoy it and not rush it."
That sounds like good advice, especially when delivered in Freeman's trademark slow, imperturbable, impeccably phrased diction. That voice lies at the core of his two summer films, one of which casts him as a man with wisdom to impart, the other as a writer who has lost his way and gotten out of touch with his own wisdom.
In Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, the third installment of the director's Batman series, Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, counselor to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), aka Batman. The film, which opened nationwide on Friday, is set eight years after The Dark Knight (2008), which ended with Batman going undercover after unfairly taking the blame for the crimes committed by Two Face (Aaron Eckhart). It has been years since Batman has been seen, and he has assumed the status of an urban legend -- until a terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) targets Gotham City and Batman must emerge from hiding to protect his city.
All indications are that The Dark Knight Rises will be the last in Nolan's series of Batman films, which began with Batman Begins (2005). The actor says he enjoys playing Fox as much now as he did seven years ago.
"It was a thrill for me," Freeman says. "I like being the guy behind the moves. He helps put the plans in motion."
Freeman's other summer film is distinctly smaller in scale: He stars in Rob Reiner's The Magic of Belle Isle, currently in limited release, as a jaded author who has lost touch with his muse. Confined to a wheelchair, he retreats to a small town where, despite himself, he becomes involved in the lives of his neighbors, a single mother and her three children.
"I really liked this character. Being in a wheelchair also offers you a completely different acting challenge," Freeman says. "Of course you're not called upon to do chin-ups while delivering dialogue, but the wheelchair does add a different element."
Freeman can also be seen on television this summer, hosting the new season of his Discovery Science Channel series Through the Wormhole. It explores all the mysteries of the universe, including portals, wormholes -- theoretical links between far-distant parts of the universe -- and the existence of aliens.
His fascination with worlds beyond our own long predates the series.
"I suppose I've had a lifelong interest," Freeman says. "I believe that at some point we will transcend space travel. I think we'll figure that out, for the simple reason that there is no horizon we won't try to conquer.
"I've been feeling for a long time that, whatever we can imagine, we can actually do," he says.
"When it comes to wormholes, the scientists who are doing the math say that technically it's possible to do it. It's just a matter of learning how to harness the energy necessary."
A native of Memphis, Freeman has amassed one of the movie industry's most impressive filmographies, appearing in such classic films as Lean on Me (1989), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Unforgiven (1992), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Seven (1995), Bruce Almighty (2003), March of the Penguins (2005), and Invictus (2009), in which his performance as President Nelson Mandela of South Africa earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. It was one of five Oscar nominations he's received, winning once as Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby (2004).
His next film will team Freeman with three other aging Hollywood icons -- Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, and Christopher Walken -- in a comedy called Last Vegas, about four friends in their 60s who meet in Las Vegas to throw a bachelor party for the only one of the four (Douglas) who has never married.
"That's going to be another fun one to do," Freeman says.
And, he promises, it will have a message as well.
"The film proves that, no matter what age you are, if you can move and get around, then the number doesn't really matter," he says.
That's a welcome message for an actor who turned 75 in June. "Here's what I really think about getting older," hesays. "I figure that, the older I get, the more people see my work and the better known I am. That is good news."