Nationality: American. Born: Memphis, Tennessee, 1 June 1937; grew up in Greenwood, Mississippi. Family: Married 1) Jeanette Adair Bradshaw (divorced), daughter: Morgana, adopted Bradshaw's daughter, Deena; 2) the costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee; has two sons, Alphonso and Saifoulaye, from other relationships. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Air Force, 1955–59. Career: Took up acting while at college, 1960; had a small role in a touring company of The Royal Hunt of the Sun and worked with the Opera Ring, a San Francisco musical-theater troupe, 1960s; worked as dancer at the New York World's Fair, 1964; made his off-Broadway debut in The Niggerlovers and his Broadway debut in all-black-cast production of Hello, Dolly! , with Pearl Bailey, 1967; made his film debut in small role in Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow?, 1971; played the role of "Easy Reader" on the PBS TV series The Electric Company , 1971–76; continued acting on stage, 1970s; first came to prominence with his stage role in The Mighty Gents , 1978; had his first important screen role in Street Smart , 1987; returned to the stage as Petruchio opposite Tracey Ullman in The Taming of the Shrew , 1991; made his directorial debut with Bopha! , 1993. Awards: Obie Award for Coriolanus , 1979; Obie Award for Mother Courage and Her Children , 1980; Obie Award for The Gospel at Colonus , 1984; Obie Award for Driving Miss Daisy , 1987; Clarece Derwent and Drama Desk Awards, for The Mighty Gents , 1978; Best Supporting Male Independent Spirit Award, National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor, New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor, for Street Smart , 1987; National Board of Review Best Actor, Berlin Film Festival Best Acting Team (with Jessica Tandy), Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Comedy/Drama Golden Globe, for Driving Miss Daisy , 1989; London Critics Circle Actor of the Year, for Se7en, 1995; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Image Award, for Amistad, 1997; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Image Award, for Deep Impact, 1998; Brussels International Film Festival Crystal Iris, 1998; Acapulco Black Film Festival Career Achievement Award, 1998. Agent: William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.
The Pawnbroker (Lumet) (extra)
Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow? ( Barney ) (Edward Mann) (as Afro)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Smight—for TV)
Hollow Image (Chomsky—for TV) (as Sweet Talk)
Brubaker (Rosenberg) (as Walter); Attica (Chomsky—for TV) (as Hap Richards)
Eyewitness ( The Janitor ) (Yates) (as Lt. Black); The Marva Collins Story (Levin—for TV) (as Clarence Collins); Death of a Prophet (King Jr.)
Teachers (Hiller) (as Lewis); Harry & Son (Paul Newman) (as Siemanowski)
Marie (Donaldson) (as Charles Traughber); That Was Then . . . This Is Now (Cain) (as Charlie Woods); The Atlanta Child Murders (Erman—for TV) (as Ben Shelter)
Resting Place (Korty—for TV) (as Luther Johnson)
Street Smart (Schatzberg) (as Fast Black); Fight for Life (Silverstein—for TV) (as Dr. Sherard)
Clean and Sober (Caron) (as Craig); Clinton and Nadine ( Blood Money ) (Schatzberg—for TV) (as Dorsey Pratt)
Glory (Zwick) (as John Rawlins); Lean on Me (Avildsen) (as Joe Clark); Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford) (as Hoke Colburn); Johnny Handsome (Walter Hill) (as Lt. A. Z. Drones); The Execution of Raymond Graham (Petrie—for TV)
The Bonfire of the Vanities (DePalma) (as Judge Leonard White)
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Kevin Reynolds) (as Azeem)
Unforgiven (Eastwood) (as Ned Logan); The Power of One (Avildsen) (as Geel Piet)
The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont) (as Ellis "Red" Redding)
Outbreak (Petersen) (as Gen. Billy Ford); Se7en (Fincher) (as Detective William Sommerset)
Moll Flanders (Densham) (as Jemmy); Chain Reaction (Davis) (as Paul Shannon); Cosmic Voyage (Silleck) (doc) (short) (as Narrator)
The Long Way Home (Harris) (as Narrator); Kiss the Girls (Fleder) (as Alex Cross); Amistad (Spielberg) (as Theodore Joadson)
Screening (Cates Jr.) (short) (as himself); Deep Impact (Mimi Leder) (as President Tom Beck); Hard Rain (Salomon) (as Jim)
Water Damage (Battle) (as Tom Preedy); Mutiny (Hooks—for TV) (ro + co-exec pr)
Along Came a Spider (Tamahori) (as Alex) (+ exec pr); Long Way to Freedom (Kapur) (as Nelson Mandela); Rendezvous With Rama (Fincher) (as Commander William T. Norton); Under Suspicion (Hopkins) (+ exec pr); Nurse Betty (LaBute)
Interview with Robert Berkvist, in New York Times , 21 April 1978.
"Morgan Freeman Takes Off," interview with Ross Wetzsteon, in New York , 14 March 1988.
"Quiet Cool," interview with Anthony DeCurtis, in Rolling Stone (New York), 5 May 1988.
Interview with Richard Harrington, in Washington Post , 3 March 1989.
"Two for the Road," interview with H. Alford, in Interview (New York), November 1989.
"For Morgan Freeman, Stardom Wasn't Sudden," interview with Helen Dudar, in New York Times , 10 December 1989.
Interview with Lynn Darling, in New York Newsday (Melville, New York), 10 December 1989.
"Brad Company/Co-Star Quality," interview with Dan McLeod and Tom Charity, in Time Out (London), 13 December 1995.
"Free Man," interview with G. Fuller, in Interview (New York), June 1996.
"The Sure Thing," interview with Jeff Dawson, in Empire (London), March 1998.
DeAngelis, Gina, Morgan Freeman—Actor , Broomall, 1999.
Lombardi, John, "Morgan Freeman," in Esquire (New York), June 1988.
Southgate, Martha, "Star Quality," in Essence (New York), December 1988.
Meises, Stanley, "Street Smart," in Premiere (New York), December 1989.
Lombardi, Fred, "Focus on an Actor: Morgan Freeman," in International Film Guide (London, Hollywood), 1990.
Schiff, Stephen, "Freeman's Freeway," in Vanity Fair (New York), January 1990.
Whitaker, Charles, "Is Morgan Freeman America's Greatest Actor?," in Ebony (Chicago), April 1990.
Current Biography 1991 , New York, 1991.
Webster, Andy, "Morgan Freeman," in Premiere (New York), March 1995.
Farber, S., "Morgan Freeman in 'Seven,"' in Movieline (Escondido), September 1996.
Rubello, S. and others, "Who's The Best Actor in Hollywood?" in Movieline (New York), October 1996.
Roberts, J., "Freeman's Films Find Followers, Thesp Ready to Take the Helm," in Variety , 1–7 September 1997.
Norman, Barry, "With Actors This Good, Who Needs Stars?" in Radio Times (London), 15 November 1997.
* * *
For years, Morgan Freeman was an award-winning stage actor who occasionally would appear in supporting roles in movies. While he may have been a known quantity to discerning theatergoers, he was barely a name (if not a face) to the public at large: His greatest mass exposure had come during the 1970s, when he played "Easy Reader" on the PBS children's series The Electric Company . As late as 1983—even after winning two Obie Awards, Clarence Derwent and Drama Desk awards, and a Tony nomination—he seriously considered abandoning acting and becoming a taxi driver.
Freeman's career went on the permanent upswing in 1987 when he riveted audiences as Fast Black, a vicious, slyly evil pimp, in the grade-B urban crime drama Street Smart . He was especially effective as his character segued from relaxed cordiality to menacing, frightening evil. Not all moviegoers immediately became aware of Freeman, because Street Smart is a genre film that appealed only to a narrow audience. Nevertheless, critics who otherwise might pass by such a film were taken by his memorable acting. Pauline Kael, one of the most influential of all American critics, asked point-blank in her review, "Is Morgan Freeman the greatest American actor?" As a result, Freeman earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, a rare feat for a performance in a film like Street Smart .
One of Freeman's most memorable characterizations came in a film that is strikingly dissimilar to Street Smart : Driving Miss Daisy , set in the pre-integration South, in which he plays Hoke Colburn, a modest, unpretentious black man hired as chauffeur to a petulant white lady (Jessica Tandy). Freeman, who also played the role on stage, makes Hoke likable and deeply sympathetic. His subtle performance also allows the viewer a peek into the soul of a black man who not only had come of age but had grown to maturity in a segregated Southern society. Freeman and Tandy's performances blend beautifully together, and both actors earned Oscar nominations. She, and not he, won the statuette, but his performance as Hoke nonetheless served as testimony that the actor was no Oscar nominee one-shot.
Freeman is capable of creating a wide range of characters. If he played a bad guy who was tough and satanic in Street Smart , he also could play good guys who are tough and dynamic (real-life high school principal Joe Clark in Lean on Me ); tough and thoughtful (the grave digger who becomes a Civil War infantry recruit in Glory , the ex-addict who conducts a therapy group in Clean and Sober ); and tough and world-weary (the veteran cop on the trail of a serial killer in Se7en ). In Deep Impact , a disaster epic about a comet set to crash into Earth, he is a commanding and reassuring presence as a U.S. President: yet another role that is the direct opposite of the one that earned him celluloid stardom.
In Driving Miss Daisy , Freeman shined in a starring role; yet he also has had the sense to accept quality roles in quality films even if those parts are satellites of the scenario's main character. This was the case in Unforgiven , in which Freeman plays Clint Eastwood's cowboy buddy; and The Shawshank Redemption , in which he is cast as the wizened veteran convict who befriends falsely convicted Tim Robbins. For the latter film, Freeman netted his third Oscar nomination. One major film in which he was sorely underused is Amistad , Steven Spielberg's pre-Civil War morality tale, in which Freeman plays a former slave/Boston abolitionist; Anthony Hopkins and Djimon Hounsou have the showy roles, and give the flashy performances. And he has emerged unscathed from his few unwise career choices, most notoriously his casting as the judge in the mega-bomb The Bonfire of the Vanities .
In 1993, Freeman made his directorial debut with Bopha! , a tense, politically savvy drama about Master Sergeant Micah Mangena (Danny Glover), a black policeman in a South African township. Mangena teaches his class of new recruits that their job is to "uphold the law, and maintain the peace." To many, in particular South Africa's political radicals, Mangena is little more than an Uncle Tom, a tool of the white ruling class, a cog in a system in which blacks are oppressed. His world is destined to crumble, and he will undergo a crisis of conscience, when his son, whom he expects to become a police officer, takes part in a rebellion against the discipline and curriculum of the local white-run school. This choice of projects serves as evidence that Freeman is fully aware of his role as an African-American artist, and that he is concerned with examining black characters in all their flaws and contradictions.