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Quitting not an option for Morgan Freeman, almost 76

Morgan Freeman plays magic debunker helping pursuit illusionist bank robbers “Now You See Me.”

Morgan Freeman plays a magic debunker helping in the pursuit of illusionist bank robbers in “Now You See Me.”

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Updated: June 27, 2013 6:30AM

He will never retire. Get that out of your head.

“I’m well beyond retirement age,” says Morgan Freeman, who turns 76 on June 1. “I’m going to borrow a line from my good friend Michael Caine, who said, ‘You don’t retire from the movies. The movies retire you.’ ”

And Freeman has never been busier. He just starred in “Oblivion” opposite Tom Cruise, is signed up to act opposite Johnny Depp in the upcoming “Transcendence” and has a leading role in this summer’s magic film “Now You See Me.”

If that’s not enough, his paranormal Science Channel series “Through the Wormhole” returns to the airwaves next week.

In “Now You See Me” (opening Friday), Freeman is the mysterious Thaddeus Bradley, who is enlisted by an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol detective (Melanie Laurent). They’re tracking down a team of illusionists (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher) who pulled off a complex bank heist.

“It was a rather outstanding effort on this one,” says Freeman with a laugh as he is being driven through Manhattan on a warm spring morning.

“Acting is chemistry, and I’m paired with Mark and Michael Caine. You can’t get much better than that for me.”

Freeman signed on because the film has twists you don’t usually see on screen. “That was the biggest draw for me,” he says. “So many movies are just repeats of what succeeded last time. This has a different feeling to it.”

Magic is something new for Freeman. He was never even given a kiddie magic set. “My mother got me doctor kits with the plastic stethoscopes and candy pills,” he says. “Maybe that was a hint for a future career, but she gave up on it very early on.

“I always knew that I was an actor,” says Freeman, who started at age 8 doing plays in his native Memphis. “I got a taste of it as a kid and everybody in school said, ‘This is what you do … so do it!’ ”

After serving in the Air Force, he had a hard time getting a career off the ground. “I got out of the military when I was 21 and, of course, I went to Hollywood to get started. I almost starved to death. So, I went to New York and couldn’t find my way. I went to San Francisco.

“I didn’t have any money. I’d just work a job for a few months to save up for the next big try at acting.”

That’s when he learned never to quit. “You hold dear the little accomplishments along the way. They feed you and fuel you.

“Of course, there were points where I thought, ‘Oh man, I better start thinking about what I’m really going to do for a living. This isn’t working out with the acting,’ ” he says. “But if you just wait long enough, something will change. In my case, something would happen and I’d get that little burst again.”

Winning an Oscar for 2005’s “Million Dollar Baby” and being nominated four other times didn’t hurt. Ask him about acting and he says, “If you believe, then the audience believes. It’s just that simple.”

In his spare time, Freeman gets away from it all on the water.

“Acting means waiting, so way back in the ’70s when I was waiting, I bought a little boat. When there is no work, I’m on my boat and happy about it.”

“You have to reach for the happiness in your life.”

Big Picture News Inc.

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