I never wanted to be a movie star. I never wanted to be a personality. Then all you do is turn yourself into what the audience wants and play it over and over. That’s what movie stars do.
I’ve been living with myself all of my life, so I know all of me. So when I watch me, all I see is me. It’s boring. – on why he dislikes watching his own films.
I was in Africa when I got the call for “Unforgiven”. Clint called my agency and made an offer for a western. I was like, ‘He called for me?’ It was jaw-dropping.
They say there’s no fool like an old fool. But blessings be upon my wife because I think without her, I’d be somebody’s fool by now.
I’m not intimidated by lead roles. I’m better in them. I don’t feel pressure – I feel released at times like that. That’s what I’m born to do.
When I got nominated for the Oscar [for “Street Smart”], it put rocket boosters in my career. Since childhood, all I wanted to do was make movies. I love the stage, but I wanted to be a movie actor.
I don’t know about anyone else, but my kids didn’t have me. I was busy trying to be somebody. Now I have all these debts to pay. — on the personal toll being an actor can take on a person.
If you live a life of make-believe, your life isn’t worth anything until you do something that does challenge your reality. And to me, sailing the open ocean is a real challenge, because it’s life or death.
Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. – when asked how to get rid of racism in an interview with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes”.
I’ve never been a mechanic. Throughout my life, what I have been is an actor, a pretender. I do have the wife and the family and the stuff like that but on the other hand, I’m – knock on wood – outstandingly healthy.
Upon waking up face down in a door way and not knowing how he got there: “I recognised that it had become a problem, so I just quit. I do have self-control. Once I realise that I’ve got to change something I just do it.”
Isn’t there a big, 800-pound gorilla missing here? Money, money, money. You work all your life so you don’t have to wash dishes or sweep floors or pump gas, and still pay the rent. That’s very germane to what you call a career.
If you wake up and the snow is knee-deep outside, you are not filled with rage. It’s just something that you’ve got to cope with. If you’re living in a situation it’s the only situation that you know, and you’ve got to deal with it.
You know, I was hanging out with Sidney Poitier and we were trying to decide if he or I were the better actor. We decided it was me as I convinced the world I could sing. (Freeman debuted on Broadway in 1968 in “Hello, Dolly!”)
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On “The Shawshank Redemption”: That is the film that most people will mention. It’s not the only one, but it’s the most common. I think more people have seen Shawshank than have seen anything else bar “Casablanca”. Me, I just take the compliment.
I’m not a campaigner or a crusader for ending racism, or anything for that matter. I believe you should live your life according to your own tenets. If there are people you don’t like, avoid them. But not liking people based on generalities is stupid.
I don’t think that anything where you start off with something is an art form. If you start off with a blank page or a blank canvas or a blank slab or a blank stone, you’re going to create something. If someone brings it to you and says, “Can you enlarge upon it?”
[on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963] On that dreadful afternoon I, along with most of the other people in New York, found myself on the street, wandering in a daze, shocked to realize the enormity of the act. I think that’s when America began to lose her way.
I work about half the year. I’m just a guy who enjoys his work and enjoys working with people who enjoy their work. When that happens you get a bonding situation and if it come out with a good product, then that ties you even closer together. It’s almost like a great love affair.
My aim in life, when I graduated from high school, was to get out of Mississippi. I started coming back [to Mississippi] in about 1979, because my parents moved back, which I couldn’t understand. What in the world would make you come back here? It took me about 20 years to figure that out.
Sometimes you want to upset an audience so you can engage them. I’ve done so-called Hollywood films, and I know that it’s all about wanting the audience to feel upbeat, give them a happy ending. But they also like complete stories. If your story’s complete it doesn’t have to have a happy ending.
That was a strange production. There were moments of extreme tension on the set. Between the producers and actors, between the director and actors, between everybody. Just this personality stuff between different groups. Very strange. Let’s stop talking about that one. – on working on “The Shawshank Redemption”.
I don’t do accents. But I was going to have to do some sort of accent and do my best to sound like Mandela. I really fretted over that because he’s an iconic figure. If you screw it up you’ve screwed it up. But once we got into production, it all fell into place. — on the toughest aspect of preparing for “Invictus”
I had a philosophic aversion to it. I didn’t want to do the same thing twice. Then, I realized that my philosophical aversion was bullshit. I realized I liked Alex Cross. And the fact that he’s black is totally incidental. That’s a rare thing for a black actor to find. – on his hesitation to do “Along Came a Spider”.
[on Michael Wincott] Michael is a sweetheart, he has an enormous power. He is one of those people who’s totally dedicated to what he’s doing. I certainly get enjoyment out of working with him. He’s great to rehearse with, he’s always got ideas and this incredible sense of humor and this kind of outlandish take on things.
I was talking to Bob Hoskins when we were making Unleashed together. We were talking about the joy of doing bad guys. And he confirmed exactly what I was thinking. With bad guys you get to let it all out. All those dark places in your psyche? You can let ’em go. When you play good guys, it’s kind of boring. It’s one note.
[on “Se7en”] There’s all this loss and angst and death and sense of helplessness in that movie-if I saw it in the theater, I probably wouldn’t have liked it. I saw “Fight Club” and I didn’t like it much. It’s a great movie, well made, fabulous acting, but it just made me feel so bad. But David Fincher is an extraordinarily good director.
If you don’t show the actual violence and the audience provides their own violence, it’s much more gruesome. This is a guy who spent a lot time planning and preparing, and what was he doing? He was punishing people for their sins. He had a moral agenda. A twisted moral agenda, but do you know how many people do? People in high places. – on the violence in “Se7en”.
“Glory” does what I think movies are best at, and that is giving you a lesson in history. Glory is a story that nobody knew. It’s American history that was completely ignored, and there is an awful lot of that. It is because the people who tell the story tell their own story. So if you ever ask, any time down the line, that’s always the film I’ll be most proud of.
People thought it was a picture about slavery. But it wasn’t about slavery at all. It was about American jurisprudence. The point of the film ultimately was that the President in not the king. But I think people were like, ‘Jesus, not another movie about slavery!’ We really do have a negative response to negative history. Which is a shame” – on the box-office failure of “Amistad”.
“It was my idea to just do “The Electric Company” for a couple of years and go on. But, you get trapped by that money thing. It’s golden handcuffs. It gets a lot of people, including soap opera actors and commercial actors. Then, they don’t want to see you in serious work. That was going to be me, having people come up to me saying ‘My kids love you!’. I was there three years too long”.
I never think about awards or anything like that when I do a job. I was first named a best actor when I was 12 years old and it doesn’t really mean anything when you get down to it, because there is no best. I don’t get all that involved. My chest puffs up as much as I can puff it up but I am not trying to be better than the person I am acting with. I am trying to be at least as good. That’s how it works.
It was a wonderful experience. Steve Bing was the producer and was very generous. But the movie didn’t turn out very well. The director [‘George Armitage’] fell ill and we shut down production for a few weeks while he recuperated. And I think when he came back he just didn’t pick up the ball and run with it the way he should have, and the movie suffered greatly for that. – on the failure of “The Big Bounce”.
When I was doing press for “Deep Impact”, reporters would always ask me how it felt to play the first black president, and I’d tell them, ‘I’m not playing the first black president. I’m playing a president who happens to be black.’ Or they’d ask me what sort of research I did for the role. Research? What kind of research do you need to play the president? He’s a guy. Besides, we all know what presidents are like standing up there in a press conference. Hell, you don’t have to do any research to play a president.
It took a long time for word of mouth to kick in because no one could say it. It was ‘The Shimshunk Reduction’, ‘The Hudsucker Redemption’; I mean people just couldn’t say it, which really made me angry because I knew that at the time! The movie we made was called ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’. Isn’t that a great title? But they were like, ‘That won’t fit on the marquee.’ So it took a year or two for people to say it. Some people still can’t say it. – on the box-office failure of “The Shawshank Redemption”.
I think we all have a private bucket list. It may not be written down, but I’m constantly checking them off. I just checked off Jack Nicholson. Every day was a holiday because I’ve been praying at the temple of Jack ever since “Five Easy Pieces”. I had a chance to ride with him on the Warner Brothers plane with Clint [Eastwood]. I got to jawing what a fan I was, and as actors will do, he expressed how he liked my work. Then we started talking about how we could make a sequel to [the 1973 Nicholson film] “The Last Detail”. But that didn’t pan out.
“I saw Neil LaBute’s first movie, “In the Company of Men”, and I thought it sucked deeply. I mean, talk about a couple of scuzzy guys. Man, they were turds. But I was intrigued by the mind that would think this up and film it. Then, I saw LaBute’s second movie, “Your Friends & Neighbors”. Not any better, but still intriguing. So then I got the script for “Nurse Betty”, and I loved it and I went and met him. And it turns out he’s married, has these lovely kids. He’s just this big bear of a man. Cuddly, even. It didn’t take any persuading to convince me to do the film”.
Upon getting work as an off-Broadway actor in 1967: I made $70 a week as an actor and I’d been making $60 in LA. Making more than that as an actor was just unbelievable to me. I never went back to typing but had some real lean times in-between. But I didn’t have to go to work for anybody else. I didn’t have to wash dishes, I didn’t have to wait tables, I didn’t have to drive a cab or wash cars. I deliberately left myself nothing to fall back on. If you’ve got a cushion, where you land, you stay. You can’t climb a mountain with a net. If you’ve got the net, you’ll let go.
‘I knew that movie wasn’t going to work. I don’t think Brian De Palma had a clue. It struck me that he didn’t read the book-or that he didn’t like the book. It was the one time Tom Hanks was awfully miscast. Originally they hired Alan Arkin to play my role. I thought that was perfect casting. But then they thought they had to be politically correct and make the judge black. So they fired Alan Arkin and hired me. Not a great way to get a role. I was kind of a suck-a– for not turning it down, but they weren’t going to give it back to Alan anyway. I never did get around to seeing the movie. – On the failure of “The Bonfire of the Vanities”.
“It’s a tricky character, right on the edge of Uncle Remus. But, I knew how to play him right away. I knew when I read it. I just saw him — the dignity in the character. The only time I ever worried about it was when I was doing the show Off-Broadway, and all these Southerners would come back wiping their eyes and talking about how nostalgic it made them feel. How their grandmother had a chauffeur just like that. I was like, ‘God damn it! I made these people nostalgic for the good ol’ days!’ But, then, I had some black friends see it, and they said, ‘Oh, my grandfather was exactly like that.’ So that made me feel okay.” – On the character of Hoke in “Driving Miss Daisy”.
I’m very worried about what’s going on in the world at the moment because we have this Napoleonic president; by Napoleonic I mean he’s a man who just seems to need to search himself. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t have any love lost on Saddam Hussein. If he needs to be removed from office, fine. You have to find the right way to do it, but going to war, nah, with the people. To do what. What is the real reason? Because he’s harboring weapons of mass destruction? So it is with North Korea. Why are we acting to acquiesce to this? We do not need the Iraqi oil. We have Kuwait oil. It’s the same pool. That’s why Kuwait’s there. That’s why Kuwait was set up. You think that country could exist there without somebody backing it? We’re talking about a piece of Iraq. So, we keep this. That’s my noise. I am terribly upset about the whole thing.
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