Don’t be surprised if Morgan Freeman bursts into song when the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. calls him to the stage Sunday at the Golden Globes, to accept the org’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for his “contributions to the world of entertainment.” Especially if Rob Reiner is there to chime in.
“We love to sing, we sing a lot of old standards. Anything that Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme or Ella Fitzgerald sang. Morgan usually starts them off, but I’ll join right in,” says Reiner, who’s in post-production on “The Summer of Monte Wildhorn,” the duo’s latest film collaboration.
That project puts Freeman in a wheelchair as a former baseball star, in a role that the film’s producer Lori McCreary (who is also Freeman’s long-time producing partner at Revelations Entertainment) calls “one of the best performances I’ve ever seen Morgan in.” It’s a script they developed together, a job that has become the focus of Freeman’s career these days.
“I needed to start doing stuff that I was complaining about not getting done. Projects that no one was doing,” Freeman says of African-American stories. “Lots of stuff still needs to be done. I could talk your ear off about stuff that I think needs doing. Historic stuff. I want to correct some misconceptions about American history. About the West, about the wars — according to Hollywood, I wasn’t involved. There was no ‘me’ there, and historically that’s not the reality. But that’s been ignored. The fact is, it gets back to, if you want your story told, you have to tell it.”
Which is why he and McCreary have a slate of projects that the 74-year-old actor says includes “a Western I’ve always wanted to do, the story of Bass Reeves, a United States marshal, who worked for Isaac Parker, the famed hanging judge of Fort Smith, Arkansas.”
Then there’s “The Jazz Ambassadors.” That one is “about the 1960 State Department tours, where they sent people like Duke Ellington on tour to export Americana, to win the hearts and minds of people in the Middle East,” according to McCreary. Revelations has “Rendezvous With Rama,” based on the Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi novel, and “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle” on their upcoming production schedule as well.
Add in Freeman’s work on “The Dark Knight Rises,” Christopher Nolan’s latest take on Batman, and his upcoming shoot on Summit Entertainment’s “Now You See Me,” Louis Leterrier’s heist thriller about to shoot in New Orleans, and it seems this actor-producer will barely have time to hit the Golden Globes to pick up the HFPA’s version of a life achievement award. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like my job, I love my work, I always have and I always will. I’m just another itinerant actor. I want to remain as just an itinerant actor who likes to go to work every day,” Freeman insists.
But he’s much more than that, and clearly deserving of the honor of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, as his friends and collaborators tell it.
The thesp has played Lucius Fox in three “Batman” movies.
“The character of Lucius Fox is the first time I ever wrote a character with an actor in mind. I’d never done that before,” says Christopher Nolan. “He radiates such charisma and warmth and integrity, and I wanted that person in Bruce Wayne’s corner.”
According to Nolan, Freeman’s charisma is very camera-specific.
“You can’t actually see it on set. I don’t use a monitor, I look at the actors very directly and I really try to tap into what they are doing,” he says. “And as much as I enjoyed the first day’s shoot with Morgan, it wasn’t until I saw dailies the next day that I really understood exactly what energy he was putting across for the audience. Only certain screen presences really have that. There’s a level of communication with the audience that is projected straight down the lens of the camera in an effortless way. It makes watching dailies absolutely thrilling, because even though you were playing close attention on the set, you just weren’t aware of it, you weren’t able to see all of that.”
Freeman’s “Thick as Thieves” co-star Antonio Banderas says the charisma is just as real off-screen. “That kind of warmth that he projects is what he is. And that doesn’t happen all the time. You can be very deceived with actors that you see on the screen, and then you meet them and it is like, ‘Oh my God!’ With Morgan it is real. Definitely.”
Reiner calls Freeman “my favorite actor. First of all, he’s maybe the greatest living actor we have in America. Certainly if he’s not the best, he’s in the top two or three. He knows his craft, he’s there all the time to work and I’ve never had an actor that I’ve had less friction with. I’ve never met a man more at peace with himself. He’s just so comfortable in his own skin.”
He’s even kind enough to help out the younger generation, as “The Hurt Locker” star Anthony Mackie recalls with a raucous laugh.
“While we were doing ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ one day I get offered this film,” Mackie says. “So I go to his trailer and knock on his door and I’m like, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Freeman, can I talk to you?’ And he says, ‘Come on in.’ So I say to him, ‘I thought that the plot of my career would be like yours. I would do regional theater until I was in my 40s, then I’d do a role that would break me out into the scene, and then I would be a star-studded gamer of the Los Angeles film industry. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, here I am, I’m young, dumb and full of spunk.’
“So then I said, ‘I’ve been offered this role in a play, that’s going to pay me $475 a week. And I’ve been offered this film that’s offering me a bucket of money.’
So I said to him, ‘I don’t know what to do, because you have art, or you have commerce. He said, ‘Anthony, I’ll be honest with you. Take the play. Take the play, and work on your craft. When Hollywood wants you, they’ll come get you. And when they come get you, they’ll pay for you.’ And I’ve lived my entire career by that one moment with Morgan Freeman.”
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The Cecil B. DeMille Award: Morgan Freeman