Sunday January 31st 2010 From The Telegraph
Invictus premiere: Morgan Freeman says he still knows 'little to nothing' about rugby
Morgan Freeman has admitted that he knows very little about rugby - despite starring in Invictus, a film about the sport's famous 1995 World Cup in South Africa.
The Oscar winner, who is hotly tipped to be nominated for Best Actor at this year's Academy Awards for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in Invictus, said he was not a sports fan but insisted the movie did not concentrate on rugby.
He said at the movie's UK premiere in London's Leicester Square: ''I wasn't a rugby fan - I didn't know beans about rugby. I still know little to nothing about rugby.
''At home sometimes when you get down to the World Series or National Football League play-offs or the NBA play-offs, I might watch. But I'm not an avid sports fan at all.''
He continued: ''It isn't based on rugby. Everyone keeps saying it's based on rugby - it incorporates rugby, but it's based on Mandela.''
Freeman, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Million Dollar Baby in 2004, wore sunglasses on the red carpet but denied he was trying to upstage director Clint Eastwood, who directed both movies.
''The sunglasses are merely because the light is hurting my eyes. I'm not trying to be cooler than him - that's too much of a challenge,'' he laughed.
Freeman, who also worked with Eastwood in 1992 film Unforgiven, said collaborating with the director for the third time was the best yet.
He said: ''He's my favourite director, so going onto the fourth, fifth and sixth times I think will be probably more fun, because the third time was the most fun, the second time was great fun and the first time was fun.''
The actor also joked that he did not like working with his co-star Matt Damon - who plays South Africa's World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar.
''We don't get on all that good. He's got a big head, he thinks he's good-looking and all that. We didn't get on all that well at all as a matter of fact,'' he said.
Damon, who is also tipped for a Best Supporting Actor nod for his portrayal of Pienaar, said it was an honour to be starring opposite Freeman - who was picked by Mandela himself to play him.
He said: ''Mandela himself had handpicked him to play him, so everyone knew at some point Morgan was going to to do it. I just felt lucky there was a role for me to be close to him while he did it.''
Damon added that he spent a lot of time with Pienaar to ensure he got the role right - and quickly realised the rugby star's status in South Africa.
He said: ''It's always really helpful when you have not only an expert but in this case the person which these things actually happened to. As an actor that's really helpful - it saves a lot of research!
''Hanging out with him in South Africa was funny, because he's like Elvis down there.''
Pienaar, who was also at the premiere, explained: ''I spent a lot of time socially with Matt, Morgan and Clint. What they wanted to understand from me was the relationship I had with (Mandela's clan name) Madeba and some of the leadership characteristics in the team.''
Damon added: ''I think we all wanted to do it because the story is true for one, and really, really uplifting.
''Had a screenwriter scripted it, people would have walked out and gone no that couldn't possibily happen. and the fact it did, really is, it bears telling again. Not only did this team do something wonderful, what happened for the country during the six weeks of the World Cup was really special.''
Clint and the stars were talking to Sky News on the Red Carpet:
Clint Eastwood has told Sky News how Morgan Freeman brought Nelson Mandela to the big screen. The Hollywood legend has been on the red carpet for the UK launch of Invictus - a film about the former South African president's involvement in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
"It seemed like it was calling out," Eastwood told Sky News."It's very interesting for a politician to use sport to think about reconciliation. It seemed like Mandela was very creative. We're not seeing a lot of innovation out of politicians. It's interesting how he handled the situation."
Mandela used sport to help bridge the divides in South Africa, as the Springboks went on to famously lift the trophy. In the film he's played by Morgan Freeman, the actor Nelson himself named as the man he'd like to play him on screen.
"It was on the cards for me, sooner or later I was going to do it," smiled Freeman.
"I'm not sure how you would try to sum him up, I don't think he's summable. There's lots of things going on, he's a unique human being."
Matt Damon learned to play rugby for his role as South Africa captain Francois Pienaar, who himself helped out Eastwood as an advisor on the film. And even though Damon - at 5'10" - may at first seem a little short to play 6'3" Pienaar, the pair insisted it really didn't matter.
"It's not about the size," Pienaar smiled, looking down at Damon. "It's all about the heart."
"I'm like his personal Mini-Me," laughed Damon. "There are no small parts, only small actors! It was a lot of responsibility. We all felt a bit of pressure to tell the story in a way that would carry on its message."
Invictus has already featured heavily in the award nomination lists so far.
Next stop is the Oscar shortlist, where Freeman is expected to compete for Best Actor, and Clint may well get another nod for Best Director. There is then one final question to ask. Will another Academy Award make his day?
"I don't know," he smiled. "I don't talk about that too much, I just go ahead and do the job. That's all up to other people."