What does Morgan Freeman hope people will remember most about his career?
The Oscar-winning actor was stumped by my question at first. He had a hard time putting his response into words. And while Freeman is known for taking dramatic pauses when speaking, these pauses were longer than usual.
“Oh, you know, uh, I think I’ve done some stuff that may be memorable,” said Freeman Saturday while walking the step-and-repeat at the annual Gene Siskel Film Center gala at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago hotel. “But, I don’t know. I hope they just say, ‘He was a nice guy. He tried hard. He did his work.’”
Apparently it’s not easy talking about your accomplishments, even at an event billed as “A Candid Conversation with Morgan Freeman” where all you’re going to talk about is, well, your accomplishments. Jon Turteltaub — who directed Freeman in “Last Vegas” and served as the moderator Saturday — had an easier time putting Freeman’s legacy into words.
“Morgan is kind of like a statue that you just know is going to be there and know it’s going to be solid and know it’s going to be beautiful,” Turteltaub said on the step-and-repeat. “You don’t question if it’s going to be beautiful tomorrow or the next day. It’s something you can trust. When Morgan Freeman is on screen, you feel safe. I think that’s his legacy. He’s that actor that was a lock that everyone could rely on.”
This “safe” feeling has long been part of Freeman’s charm. He has the ability to command respect with his calming baritone voice and on-screen presence, which is why he often plays the wise voice of reason in films (that is, when he’s not serving as the narrator). It’s a market Freeman seems to have cornered. He’s played Nelson Mandela (“Invictus”), a wizard (“The Lego Movie”) and even God (“Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty”). Freeman is a rare breed in Hollywood, but is there any young actor coming up today that reminds Freeman of himself?
“No,” Freeman said. “The young actors who are working have their own persona. I haven’t looked at one and said ‘Just like me.’”
Turteltaub echoed that sentiment, but for different reasons.
“You’re never going to meet a young actor who reminds you of Morgan Freeman,” Turteltaub said. “Morgan Freeman was an old actor from the time he was a young actor. The actor who reminds me most of Morgan Freeman, in an odd way, is Anthony Hopkins — somebody who was born 50 years old and seems to always have been 50 years old.”
Freeman has been nominated for five Oscars, winning best supporting actor for his role in “Million Dollar Baby.” He’s one of the highest-ranking actors of all time in terms of his movies’ box office grosses, thanks in part to the Christopher Nolan-directed “The Dark Knight,” which filmed in Chicago. The trilogy wrapped up with “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012, Batman will be seen next in the Zack Snyder-directed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Does the movie fan in Freeman wish Nolan would have made more Batman movies?
“Not really, no,” Freeman said. “Keep moving. But if I had a wish list, it’s that Chris Nolan calls me.”
Knowing my brief time with Freeman was running out, I asked if there was a motto or piece of advice he’s abided by throughout his career.
“Yes,” said Freeman, much to my relief. “’If you want to do it — do it.’”
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