Seven Questions With Morgan J. Freeman Of "Hurricane"
by Cheri Barner
A surprise hit of the '97 Sundance Film Festival was a first time film, "Hurricane", by a
twenty seven year old director/screenwriter named Morgan J. Freeman.
What is immediately noticeable in Freeman's work is the sure hand with
the young director steers both the script's plot and his small band of
young actors through the film.
The film is the story of a group of clubhouse kids, lead by Marcus
(Brendan Sexton, III), who commit petty thefts while quietly suffering
through life's hardships. A disturbing picture of the impenetrable
hardness of the adult world crushing children's lives, "Hurricane's" able
leadership was recognized at Sundance by the DGA with it's Director's
Award. The film also garnered the Festival's Audience Award as well as
the Cinematography Award for Enrique Chediak's work.
I interviewed Freeman at the Claimjumper Bar in Park City. Freeman
enters wearing jeans, a parka, and a buzz cut. He looks so young, I
wonder if we will be allowed in. He is accompanied by his lead actor
Brendan Sexton, III. Sexton is a small, tightly packed bundle of energy,
much like a hurricane himself.
indieWIRE: This is a very unique film about kids since it is told in a
more referential way...
Morgan Freeman: It's very structured story. It's not a slice of life
about Manhattan street kids. It's a drama, and I think a devastating
drama that effects a group, a club, of good-intentioned, thriving,
healthy kids in our society. And this is an attempt to raise the
question of, "Is it society?" "What can lead these kids astray, or what
can make their world a dangerous place?"
iW: How do you think Hurricane compares with a film like "Kids?"
Freeman: I think "Kids" was more an expose of somebody's idea of what a
certain group of New York street kids are like. I think that yes, you
can go into any part of any where in the world and find the bad kids and
you can make a movie about that. I don't think that represents the
entire group. Brendan doesn't sit home doing nine whip-its, slapping
his dick. I stand behind that movie, as a movie that went into that
sub-culture, heightened it and sensationalized it for a dramatic
effect. You know, "lets take this up to the biggest level ever." And
that's a good way to get a movie out there, to really go there.
iW: And how do you go there with a film like "Hurricane?"
Freeman: It's hard. You try to explain it as what? An inner city love
story? Is it kids stuck in the asphalt jungle? It's got guns? They've
got a clubhouse, they hang out, they steal. It's like you want it to be
an anti-hero character who's life completely falls apart, and he tries
to rebuild it but in a world that won't let him.
iW: How did you approach writing the script?
Freeman: I'm really a big fan of movie structure, planting seeds, payoff.
Creating a tight knit structure that allows you to have rules to go by
when you film. Or laws you create for yourself by having a structure.
I wrote a lot. The script should be much longer, you need to lose
scenes. It's not all going to work out. You want a hundred and twenty
pages in your script, I think, because you don't know what's going to
work, you don't know who's going to shine, you don't know what sub-plot
is going to come out and be amazing.
iW: What films had an effect on your filmmaking?
Freeman: "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" had an amazing influence on my
storytelling. You know where you're going and you're confident that
just when one (plot point) is running out there is going to be another
to pick it up.
Also, obviously, "400 Blows." "Hurricane" is very referential to it.
Even the title is similar. I wanted a (continual) battering, like the
image of a small boy beaten down by 400 blows.
iW: Brendan gives an outstanding performance for someone so young, how
did you pick him for the role?
Freeman: I had seen him In "Welcome To The Dollhouse" and I used him in
several of my earlier short films. I knew I wanted to use him when I
did my feature.
What was important that, we agreed on the character. So I (put)
complete trust in what I think Brendan could do and how he saw Marcus.
And I embraced what he saw in the character.
I notice throughout the interview, Morgan glancing a paternal watchful
eye over the sixteen year old, Brendan. Even his body language is that
of a parent, which makes me ask:
iW: Were you a paternal director on the set?
Freeman: No, he (nodding towards Brendan) drives me crazy. One day, I'm so
nervous were doing this big day at the school with all the kids, I have
all these extras and we have cops with a long dolly and we're running
out of time and it's really hot in the car, we don't have the engine
running but we have the window down on Brendan's side of the car and
this punk here (Brendan) is refusing to do the scene because (he says)
"in real life if the cop came with the window down, he'd just reach out
and open the door."
As Morgan physically depicts the argument that ensues with fervor,
Brendan laughs hysterically. Despite what they say there is obviously a
great deal of affection between them.