In: Memphis, TN
Morgan Freeman has enjoyed an impressive and varied career on stage, television, and screen. It is a career that began in the mid-'60s, when Freeman appeared in an off-Broadway production of The Niggerlovers and with Pearl Bailey in an all-African-American Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968. He went on to have a successful career both on and off-Broadway, showcasing his talents in everything from musicals to contemporary drama to Shakespeare.
Before studying acting, the Memphis-born Freeman attended Los Angeles Community College and served a five-year stint with the Air Force from 1955 to 1959. After getting his start on the stage, he worked in television, playing Easy Reader on the PBS children's educational series The Electric Company from 1971 through 1976. During that period, Freeman also made his movie debut in the lighthearted children's movie Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow? (1971). Save for his work on the PBS show, Freeman's television and feature film appearances through the '70s were sporadic, but in 1980, he earned critical acclaim for his work in the prison drama Brubaker. He gained additional recognition for his work on the small screen with a regular role on the daytime drama Days of Our Lives from 1982 to 1984.
Following Brubaker, Freeman's subsequent '80s film work was generally undistinguished until he played the dangerously emotional pimp in Street Smart (1987) and earned his first Oscar nomination. With the success of Street Smart, Freeman's film career duly took off and he appeared in a string of excellent films that began with the powerful Clean and Sober (1988) and continued with Driving Miss Daisy (1989), in which Freeman reprised his Obie-winning role of a dignified, patient Southern chauffeur and earned his second Oscar nomination for his efforts. In 1989, he also played a tough and cynical gravedigger who joins a newly formed regiment of black Union soldiers helmed by Matthew Broderick in Glory. The acclaim he won for that role was replicated with his portrayal of a high school principal in that same year's Lean on Me.
Freeman constitutes one of the few African-American actors to play roles not specifically written for African-Americans, as evidenced by his work in such films as Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), in which he played Robin's sidekick, and Clint Eastwood's revisionist Western Unforgiven (1992). In 1993, Freeman demonstrated his skills on the other side of the camera, making his directorial debut with Bopha!, the story of a South African cop alienated from his son by apartheid. The following year, the actor received a third Oscar nomination as an aged lifer in the prison drama The Shawshank Redemption. He went on to do steady work throughout the rest of the decade, turning in memorable performances in films like Seven (1995), in which he played a world-weary detective; Amistad (1997), which featured him as a former slave; Kiss the Girls (1997), a thriller in which he played a police detective; and Deep Impact, a 1998 blockbuster that cast Freeman as the President of the United States. Following an appearance opposite Renee Zellweger in director Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty, Freeman would return to the role of detective Alex Cross in the Kiss the Girls sequel Along Came a Spider (2001). Freeman continued to keep a high profile moving into the new millennium with roles in such thrillers as The Sum of All Fears (2002) and Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, and the popular actor would average at least two films per year through 2004. 2003's Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty cast Freeman as God (a tall role indeed, and one he inherited from both George Burns and Gene Hackman). The story finds the Supreme Being appearing on Earth and giving Carrey temporary control over the universe - to outrageous comic effect.
By the time Freeman appeared opposite Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood in Eastwood's acclaimed 2004 boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, his reputation as one of Hollywood's hardest-working, most-respected actors was cemented in place. When Freeman took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar at the 77th Annual Academy Awards for his performance as the former boxer turned trainer who convinces his old friend to take a scrappy female fighter (Hilary Swank) under his wing, the award was considered overdue given Freeman's impressive body of work.
The Oscar reception lifted Freeman to further heights. In summer 2005, Freeman was involved in three of the biggest blockbusters of the year, including War of the Worlds, Batman Begins and March of the Penguins. He joined the cast of the first picture as the foreboding narrator who tells of the destruction wrought by aliens upon the Earth. The Batman Begins role represented the first in a renewed franchise (the second being 2008's The Dark Knight), with the actor playing Lucius Fox, a technology expert who equips Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) with his vast assemblage of gadgetry. Freeman also provided narration for the most unpredictable smash of the year, the nature documentary March of the Penguins.
That fall, Miramax's drama An Unfinished Life cast Freeman in a difficult role as Mitch, a bear attack victim reduced to near-paraplegia, living on a derelict western ranch. The picture was shelved for two years; it arrived in cinemas practically stillborn, and many critics turned their noses up at it. After a brutal turn as a sociopathic mob boss in Paul McGuigan's Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Freeman reprised his turn as God in the 2007 Bruce Almighty sequel Evan Almighty; the high-budgeted picture flopped, but Freeman emerged unscathed. Versatile as ever, he then opted for a much different genre and tone with a key role in the same year's detective thriller Gone, Baby, Gone. As written and directed by Ben Affleck (and adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane) the film wove the tale of two detectives searching for a missing four-year-old in Boston's underbelly.
He returned to the Batman franchise in The Dark Knight, a film that broke box-office records, in 2008, and he would stick with the franchise for its final installment, The Dark Knight Rises, in 2012. Freeman would remain a top tier actor in years to come, appearing in such films as Red, Invictus (which saw him playing Nelson Mandela), Conan the Barbarian, and The Magic of Belle Isle. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi