With more than 60 movies to his credit over the course of 40 years, Morgan Freeman may be the recipient of the Mayor’s Lifetime Achievement award, but he is hardly ready to slow down.
Freeman currently has 11 movies in various stages of development, from Long Walk to Freedom, in which he is set to play Nelson Mandela, to a role in next year’s highly anticipated Batman Begins. Also on tap are films with Clint Eastwood (directing Freeman in Million Dollar Baby) and Anthony Hopkins (who will play Freeman’s butler in Harry and the Butler).
When it comes time to review the scripts for his next plum assignment, Freeman simply goes for “whatever grabs me, I don’t have a ‘look for.’
“I don’t want to be in something I know I’ve already done,” Freeman said. “If I can find something off the beaten path completely, it’s all the better, but, you know, I’m just looking for work.”
With that, Freeman flashed a humble smile that belies a career of exceptional performances on the silver screen and on stage.
Indeed, Freeman was quite comfortable on the Buell’s stage, proving himself to be a good chat with a great sense of humor matched by a humility that has helped keep his career in check.
As part of the closing ceremonies for the 27th Starz Denver International Film Festival, Freeman’s film career was treated to the cinematic equivalent of a highlights reel, which was followed by an on-stage interview with Robert Denerstein, the film critic for the Rocky Mountain News.
What follows are a few highlights from that interview.
Robert Denerstein: Considering the current state of affairs and your experiences in Deep Impact, are you sure you don’t want to be president?
Morgan Freeman: It doesn’t pay well enough.
RD: For those of you who don’t know, Morgan’s was more than just an impressive New York stage acting career, it was a major stage acting career. In terms of Driving Miss Daisy, did that in some way perhaps represent a convergence of the two extremes in your life, the stage and movies, and maybe a point at which the stage kind of began to recede a little bit in terms of its importance to you? And then maybe we could talk a little bit about Hoke and your approach to that character.
MF: I’ll start with Hoke. I grew up in the south, I grew up in Mississippi. When I read the script, it was written with southern music. I knew who the character was, I just knew who he was; he was a combination of my dad and a whole lot of people that I knew, that I had intercourse with.
(A snicker from the audience draws Freeman’s attention.)
I’ll say congress, how’s that?
So that character was built right on the page for me, it was just a matter of slipping into him, very easy.
Now the transition from the stage to movies; my life thrust was movies. I’m born to do this, like Picasso was born to paint. Now I’m not comparing myself to Picasso, but, you know, there are some things that just come easy to you.
If you’re a writer, you’re a writer. And if you wait tables or wash cars or fix cars, you go home at night and you write. Whether you do something else is not the point; you write. Painters paint. Actors act. I grew up in the movies. That was it. Sometimes I’d go to the movies three times a week.
I really wanted to be in the movies. So when that time came and I started getting movie roles, it was a natural move for me. I just felt like my time has come. Now people say, ‘Well, you’re a late bloomer, you got started late.’
Well, I think that was probably a good thing. Sometimes I think, well, let’s suppose it happened when your stage career got started. I was 30 when my stage career got started. So 20 years on stage puts me at 50. Maybe if it had gone the other way around I wouldn’t have survived it. I have to look at it that way.
RD: What is that you saw that said to you, that’s it, that’s what I want to do?
MF: When I was 8 years old I was put on stage to play Little Boy Blue in a school pageant. It was like throwing fish into water, you know. It just, it was right. It felt right.
Nothing happened again until I was 12. I had another occasion to be on stage, but this time, this time it was for the biggies. We were having contests in Mississippi and we had this contest statewide. My school won it and I was awarded first prize, best actor. Twelve years old.
My high school yearbook graduation picture says...
(Taking a cue from Freeman, the audience responds, “Best actor.”)
So it was like a foregone conclusion that this kid is going to do this. And I left high school thinking I was going to be a hot shot fighter pilot because I joined the air force.
But, you know, your life works the way it works.
(Freeman goes on to explain what it’s been like to work with some of the biggest names in the business.)
MF: You always owe whatever kudos you get for your work to those you worked with because if you work with good people, you seem to do good work. I always owe thanks to my colleagues.
There is something else about me and I will confess. I suffer from ‘starstruckness.’ I’m in the enviable position of having the great good fortune to work with people I greatly admire. The first occasion was Pearl Bailey and then I did a two-character play with Jose Ferrer, who, after I saw Cyrano de Bergerac, ahhh, gosh, he could do no wrong for me ever.
I worked with him and he stopped after the second week of rehearsals and said, ‘Morgan, look, you’ve got to get over this worship thing.’
RD: Growing up as a kid loving the movies, being in a western (Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven) has to be big- time fulfillment of a fantasy.
MF: It would be impossible to tell you. Until I was 15 years old… Let me repeat that: Until I was 15 years old, the first thing I would put on in the morning after I put my pants on was my gun belt. I spent entire summers riding a broom handle. I kid you not. I did not get on a real horse until I was 19. I’d ride tree limbs, fences…
I have so many of these ‘pinch me’ moments, all through my career. It’s like, wow-wee.
I’ve got to tell you, I come from – and I’m not bragging – humble beginnings. Small town Mississippi. Barefoot. Dusty. Dreaming. Always dreaming.
So those of you who need one, get one. It works.