Second star to the right: Morgan Freeman on the perils, and passions, of an adventurer

Morgan Freeman's first outing with the National Geography channel, The Story of God, sent him on a mission to unravel "what defined us", through religion, faith and the search for the divine.

Its follow-up, The Story of Us, is instead the story of "what binds us". Its mission, to explore our shared humanity.

Coming out of The Story of God, Freeman says, he felt there were still questions to be asked. "What else besides the divine is in all of us?" he asks. "What else do we have besides the divine that is binding tissue?"

That brought the production team to the themes - or "fundamental forces" - which frame the six one-hour episodes of the new series: love, belief, power, war and peace, rebellion and freedom.

Among the subjects of its examination, Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group notable for picketing army funerals and parading "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for 9/11" banners.

It also delves into the experiences, among many, of former "Angola Three" inmate Albert Woodfox, who spent 43 years in solitary confinement after being convicted of the murder of a prison officer in 1972, and Joshua Coombes, a London hairdresser who began offering haircuts to homeless people and then founded the #DoSomethingForNothing movement.

Freeman says the series was a natural fit for his nature. "I can pat myself on the back with the knowledge that I've always been curious; some people call it nosey," he says.

"But that is probably the driving force behind wanting to do and loving to do this kind of material. It puts you face to face with people who are way outside of your life experience."

Human society, Freeman says, is a tapestry. "And it is not made from the exact same fabric," he adds. "So these stories, meaning these people, are in my own life, weaving a whole other pattern for me to live in and believe in. I find it very exciting."

He has always been, he says, an adventurer. "I fly, I sail, I am a horseman, I like sort of seeing myself as a soldier of fortune without being one," he says.

"One of the greatest pleasures of my life is sailing into a harbour somewhere by myself and have people marvel at how I control my boat."

Quite apart from his acting career, Freeman's role as a presenter for National Geographic seems to blend equal parts journalist, observer and Indiana Jones.

As an actor, Freeman says, his drive is built on the simple notion of being seen. "In film, I just need to belong.

"I grew up in the movies, watching them, and not seeing enough of me, none of me. So my film career is actually predicated on being able to see me."

Presenting programs such as The Story of God and The Story of Us, offers him a "completely different set of rules".

"Now what I'm getting the most joy out of is meeting all of these different people, sitting down and having a one-on-one conversation with them, and realising that, gee, I just talked with someone from the other side of the world, and they are saying pretty much the same thing. They are just using a different language."

Keeping the message grounded is key, Freeman adds, lest the series wander into the territory of preaching to its audience that it has found all the answers.

"There's always going to be a contingent, a small one albeit, who will roll their eyes at do-gooders, tree huggers, people who for one reason or another think differently, have a higher aspiration," Freeman says.

"When people get disillusioned, they get fearful for their own future.

"This is happening in a lot of places in the world today and particularly here with the innovations and technology that are moving jobs away from humans. Now what am I going to do? These things create fear, and fear creates tension, and tension creates friction, and there you have it."

Though the individual stories the series touches in its six episodes are powerful, they do not always resonate personally, Freeman says. But the case of Albert Woodfox did.

Woodfox was accused of killing a prison officer, convicted, and spent 43 years in solitary confinement. His conviction was overturned in 2014 and he was released finally in 2016.

"I grew up in the south, single parent situation, having the opportunity to take the wrong path," Freeman says. "Knock on wood I didn't. But when I sit with Albert and people like him, yes, I have that exact feeling, there but for the grace of really good luck."

Others, such as Coombes, resonate simply because of their mission.

"He's out there trying to single handedly change people's ideas about life itself. His motto, do something for nothing, that reminds me so much of Nelson Mandela. Your task in life is probably to do as much as you can for others for nothing."

WHAT: The Story of Us
WHEN: Wednesday, 8.30pm, National Geographic

This story Second star to the right: Morgan Freeman on the perils, and passions, of an adventurer first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.