“My initial reaction was, ‘Jesus Christ, another script.’” Morgan Freeman says regarding being approached for The Magic of Belle Isle.
To which Virginia Madsen adds her reaction to discovering that Freeman would be in the film with her. “And my initial reaction was, ‘Not Morgan Freeman. Really? Is he doing another movie? God, it’s like every week and a half he’s coming out with a new one.’”
Of course, both of them are joking. The two of them helm this film about a retired writer, Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman), who has lost his will to create, and has decided to drink himself to death as he house sits in the idyllic Belle Isle community. His neighbor is single mother Mrs. O’Neil (Virginia Madsen), who is doing her best to raise three daughters. The middle child, Finnegan, takes a liking to Monte, and the two develop a bond that only two writers can share, slowly drawing Monte back to the world in an emotional sense.
All kidding aside, Freeman and Madsen were both very pleased to be part of The Magic of Belle Isle, and to work together. “I got a phone call when I was on a road trip,” Madsen explains. She had decided to get out of the city and had to the desert to reflect on the film industry, and try to have a more positive outlook on her career. “I decided to…take a breather, and then, of course, that’s when things usually happen. I got this call from my agent and I…couldn’t believe that all of a sudden I had phone reception…. [My agent] said, ‘Rob Reiner wants you to do his next movie.’” But the best news was yet to come. “He said, ‘It’s Morgan Freeman.’ And I was like, ‘Oh God! I don’t have to read it!’”
For Freeman, knowing that Madsen was playing opposite him “was happiness” for him. “I’ve seen a lot of Virginia’s work,” he says. “Steadfast is how I would describe her. She’s always right on the money. Whatever the job is.” Having worked previously with Rob Reiner on The Bucket List, Freeman had been handpicked for the role, describing the decision as “serendipity”.
Both actors also enjoyed working with Reiner on this film as well. The most challenging part of the production was “Getting up in the morning,” Freeman quips.
“On the set was happiness and joy and real family-feeling,” Madsen adds, “because I think we’ve been talking a lot about the kind of atmosphere Rob creates on his sets and it’s – I think because everything has the appearance of being laidback, and yet he’s extremely focused, and he works really fast so everyone has to be on their toes. But there’s this atmosphere of everything being laidback and easy, so people can be very open and their creativity can soar.”
“It certainly makes your work very easy,” Freeman says. “In fact, it makes it enjoyable. I think most of us enjoy what we do, but under some circumstances it’s more enjoyable than others. Some directors set that kind of atmosphere, and it’s just fun to be there.”