The 72-year-old movie star earned Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations this week for his portrayal of the iconic leader, known in South Africa as Madiba, in the current release "Invictus," which is based on John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation."
"This started out with Madiba naming me his heir apparent, so to speak. When he was asked during the press conference at the publication of his book, 'Long Walk to Freedom,' 'Mr. Mandela, if your book becomes a movie, who would you like to play you?' He said, 'Morgan Freeman.' So from then on, it's like, 'OK, Morgan Freeman is going to play Mandela somewhere down the line,'" Freeman told reporters in Los Angeles recently. "So my producing partner and I spent a lot of time trying to develop 'Long Walk to Freedom' into a script. Couldn't happen and then … we got this book proposal from John Carlin and it was perfect. We bought it. We got a script written and this was the role to play to give the world an insight into who Mandela is and how he operates."
So, how did Freeman get ready to play the iconic political figure?
"When (Mandela) said (in 1994) he preferred that I be the one to play him, I had to start then preparing myself to do it. So, I met him not long after that and I said to him: 'If I'm going to play you, I'm going to have to have access to you. I am going to have to be close enough to hold your hand.' And, over the years, while we were trying to develop 'A Long Walk to Freedom,' that is what happened," the Oscar-winning actor recalled. "Whenever we were in proximity, like a city away, for instance, I would know about it and I would go to him and have lunch or dinner or sit with him while he's waiting to go on stage for whatever. And during that time I would sit and hold Madiba's hand. Now, that's not for camaraderie. I find that if I hold your hand, I get your energy. It transfers and I have a sense of how you feel. That's important to me in trying to become another person. I had a lot of pressure to bring a character like that to life in any kind of real sense."