More than likely when you think of Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman you think of some of his terrific feature films like "The Shawshank Redemption" or "Invictus." One little known fact, however, is that when Freeman isn't working as an actor one of his favorite hobbies is space. In fact, when the Science Channel wanted to create a new series about the big questions in the universe, they went to Freeman and asked to help develop a series with them. From that union comes "Through the Wormhole With Morgan Freeman," which premieres tonight on the Science Channel. Executive Producer (and Science Channel's VP of Production) Bernadette McDaid talked with our Jim Halterman earlier this week about Freeman's involvement, the ways in which the creative team worked to make science more accessible to everyone and just how close the notions of faith and science may really be.
Jim Halterman: It's not everyday that you see an A-list movie actor on the Science Channel. How did that union come about?
Bernadette McDaid: If you watch the Science Channel we are adding a lot to what we like to refer to as the 'Rock Stars of the Science.' Michio Kaku in 'Sci-Fi Science' and [Professor] Brian Cox is coming up shortly in 'Wonders of the Solar System.' What we're trying to do is expand science outside of the classroom. What we see the focus of the Science Channel as being is to illustrate and highlight science in our everyday life. It's not a scary thing in a classroom but affects everything you do and how you live. We wanted to merge our 'Rock Stars of Science' and merge that with the superstars of pop culture. The head of Science Channel, [General Manager] Deborah Myers, had heard that Morgan Freeman was really interested in space and the universe and asks the big philosophical questions so she approached Morgan and his producer and said 'Let's develop a series together.' That was the genesis of 'Through the Wormhole.'
JH: And Morgan Freeman has that commanding voice so who better to lead us into the world of science, right?
BM: He's absolutely magnetic! The first episode is "Is There a Creator?" and I think Morgan was perfect because he's known for playing God! He was so much more keen on that than we were and I think that episode really typified what we're trying to do with this series and the channel as a whole. It's not only about making science accessible but also making people think.
JH: How did you go about making the show accessible to non-science people? For example, you use examples like surfing and chocolate souffles in discussing theories of gravity.
BM: Television is a medium of 'don't tell, show.' I think with anything that is complicated you have to plant a visual image in the viewer's mind. If someone tells me that something is 800 meters long, that means nothing to me but if you tell me it's the length of a football field then I have a visual image of what you're talking about. It's very much a goal of the series to simplify very complicated concepts and to make them accessible and understandable in an entertaining and compelling way. What we wanted to do was not only use the CGI, which makes it all look wonderful, but also just use very simple concepts to describe what we're talking about. When you use materials that people are so familiar with and you impose a totally different way of looking at them it just works on so many levels.
JH: Were you surprised that a lot of the people who are changing the face of science are not only the stereotypical scientist in a lab but, for example, Dr. Garrett Lisi, the surfer who happens to be working on profound theories.
BM: Yes! One of the things that we were very keen of doing in this series and across the channel that if you look back in recent history, Stephen Hawking was considered right on the fringe of science not so long ago. What we wanted to do with 'Wormhole' was find out all the theories that people are working on. So, the surfer physicist was great because it is so unexpected and it speaks to that idea that science is not a dry, boring topic for the classroom. It's right there where you don't expect it and I think he is the embodiment of it.
JH: The first episode brings up a lot of issues regarding faith and science. We often think of those things as being so far apart but are they closer together than we realize?
BM: I think that's what is so fascinating with that episode especially with Lisi's theory of creation because he himself is an atheist and he totally accepts and understands that his theory can prove the existence of God and that's one of those wonderful conundrums. We wanted to explore God and science, not God versus science.
JH: When you feature something like the God Helmet on the show, is that the sort of thing you stumble upon in doing your own research for the show?
BM: No, these are all very carefully researched before choosing what topics we're going to do. We start with choosing things that we're interested in and then the next step is to investigate what is the most groundbreaking and compelling research that is happening in the science world right now. When we heard about the God Helmet we wanted to use it because it's so unusual; that was one of the things that made a very strong case.
JH: What are some of the other topics that are coming up in future episodes?
BM: We have eight episodes. We have 'Beyond the Darkness,' which is about dark matter. It's absolutely fascinating and thought provoking because the majority of our Universe is made up of matter that we can't see; half of which is for the force of good and half of which is for the force of bad. Then we have an episode called "What Happened Before the Beginning?" which goes back further than the Big Bang so that's pretty incredible. I just love the title of that one because you wouldn't think to ask what happened before. I think that title alone represents what our show is about. Another is "Is Time Travel Possible?" which I am particularly interested in to figure out how to get more time to get my work done. [laughs] We also have one called "Are We Alone?" Some of them are philosophical life questions and we like to choose a topic and go from the micro to the macro.
JH: Would you say that overall the series is predominantly about raising questions than providing answers since so much of science does not have definitive answers?
BM: I'm so happy you said that! One of the objectives of the Science Channel is that we have decided that it's much more compelling and interesting to raise really incredible questions instead of a nicely wrapped up journey so that is very much a part of the series.
"Through the Wormhole With Morgan Freeman" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on the Science Channel.