Actors reflect on Kennedy Center honoree

He’s what my mama used to call “a long tall drink of water.” Style drapes from his shoulders and glides down his graceful self to his well-made shoes. He is a black man. Or some color combination that is hard to describe in this day and age when African-American just seems too damn long. To me, anyway. He himself has said that he has “Dignified” tattooed on his ass. I’m not sure what he can do about that because it suits him. Even when he’s naughty. And even when he’s lazy. And even when he borders on being an asshole. He still rides the rails full of some kind of something we all wish to have.

I got to dance with him in the tango of a husband and wife for two hours, eight times a week for four months on Broadway. Part of the story we told was of three mature adults negotiating a tricky triangle. He never made it completely known how he wanted that three-legged stool to sit. But as we kept shifting from leg to leg, he held his corner firm and waited for the winds of favor to blow his way. And they did. He loves to act. And acting alongside him was a joyful act for me.

Frances McDormand co-starred with Morgan Freeman and Peter Gallagher in the 2008 Broadway revival of “The Country Girl.”

Morgan was in the original 1987 Off Broadway production of “Driving Miss Daisy.” I vaguely knew who he was. I hadn’t met him before. I had cast him without an audition, because we were late and getting desperate. As an actor, he had kicked around a long time. He was in the Pearl Bailey company of “Hello, Dolly!” He was in “The Mighty Gents” on Broadway. He was mostly known, when I met him, as Easy Reader in “The Electric Company.” In the interim before rehearsals, “Street Smart” came out. I went to see it. There is this cold-eyed pimp. Kathy Baker plays one of the girls in his stable, and Morgan takes a big pair of scissors to her with the kind of abandon you’ve never seen. He was completely convincing. I thought, “Oh my God, what have I done in casting him as Hoke?” Lo and behold, he shows up for the first reading of “Driving Miss Daisy,” and he was the incredible old man I loved so much.

For the movie, they wanted a star like Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte. “I’m only the playwright,” I told them, “but no one can do it like Morgan.” Fortunately, “Lean on Me” came out. He was certified, and Morgan got to do the movie.

Alfred Uhry won an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize for writing “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Morgan was in the original 1987 Off Broadway production of “Driving Miss Daisy.” I vaguely knew who he was. I hadn’t met him before. I had cast him without an audition, because we were late and getting desperate. As an actor, he had kicked around a long time. He was in the Pearl Bailey company of “Hello, Dolly!” He was in “The Mighty Gents” on Broadway. He was mostly known, when I met him, as Easy Reader in “The Electric Company.” In the interim before rehearsals, “Street Smart” came out. I went to see it. There is this cold-eyed pimp. Kathy Baker plays one of the girls in his stable, and Morgan takes a big pair of scissors to her with the kind of abandon you’ve never seen. He was completely convincing. I thought, “Oh my God, what have I done in casting him as Hoke?” Lo and behold, he shows up for the first reading of “Driving Miss Daisy,” and he was the incredible old man I loved so much.

For the movie, they wanted a star like Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte. “I’m only the playwright,” I told them, “but no one can do it like Morgan.” Fortunately, “Lean on Me” came out. He was certified, and Morgan got to do the movie.

Alfred Uhry won an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize for writing “Driving Miss Daisy.”

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