Few actors are as revered as the 76-year-old Oscar winner, and not only has he become one of Hollywood's greatest elder statesmen, he's also one of its most trusted voices.
That silky-smooth, incomparable delivery is on display again in two movies this month: He narrates the Imax doc "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar" (now in theaters), and we'll get to hear and see Freeman on screen again in the Johnny Depp-led mind-bender "Transcendence."
Freeman sat down with Yahoo Movies to talk about memories from the sets of his most beloved movies, which you can watch in two parts above and below.
"Street Smart" (1987): A passion project for Christopher Reeve (as Freeman explained, the red-hot actor said he'd only sign on to "Superman IV" if they let him make this character drama), this film marked Freeman's breakout role, and earned him his first of five Oscar nominations. Reeve played Jonathan Fisher, a magazine reporter who fabricates a story about a street hustler who bears a striking resemblance to Freeman's volatile pimp Fast Black, especially in the eyes of the law.
As for his most clear-cut memory of working with Reeve, it was an easy one: "I cut his face," recalled Freeman. A scene set in a car required Freeman to smash a bottle of Yoo-hoo and then thrust it toward Reeve. Freeman forced it too far, nicked his face, and suddenly Superman was bleeding. As for how responded: We'll just leave it at [expletive].
"Glory" (1989): "One of my favorite films to have taken part in," Freeman said; later he told us that that contrary to a "trivia fact" on IMDb, it's this war epic, not "Shawshank Redemption," that ranks as his single favorite.
Freeman remains affected by Edward Zwick's retelling of the U.S. Army's first all-black unit during the Civil War. "You can't really do anything in a movie to experience the harsh realities of war," he said of the production, before recounting one particularly shocking moment where a soldier gets decapitated by a cannonball. "You can show that, you can't experience it."
"Driving Miss Daisy" (1989): '89 was a good year for Mr. Freeman; not only did he star in "Glory," but he also earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for "Driving Miss Daisy," which would win Best Picture. Freeman recounted (and briefly reenacted) his favorite scene, the first meeting of Daisy (Jessica Tandy) and his Hoke Colburn, which finds her refusing to get in his car. "Precious moment," he said smiling.
What also sticks out from his stint behind the wheel of the Daisy-mobile? "Hans Zimmer's music," Freeman added. And yes, that gets some Freeman-actment as well.
"The Shawshank Redemption" (1994): "I can't play an Irishman." That was Freeman's reaction after reading the Stephen King novella on which this deeply beloved drama was based on and discovering he was wanted for the role of Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, described in the short story as a middle-aged Irishman with graying red hair. Other actors reportedly considered for the part included acting heavyweights Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford.
Of course, Freeman would go on to play the role of aging inmate "Red" just fine, racking up an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in the process and subsequently seeing "Shawshank" remain perched atop IMDb's Top 250 highly rated films since it passed "The Godfather" in 2008.
"Se7en" (1995): Freeman said David Fincher's dark and twisty thriller wasn't always supposed to end with its now-infamous final scene — a climax both the director and Brad Pitt became adamant about during the film's production. Various incarnations had (spoiler alert) Pitt's cop discovering a dog's head in that box rather than his wife's, and also Pitt not shooting the killer.
Freeman seemed to imply he wasn't initially on board with them, but once Pitt and Fincher had their desired ending in place, he couldn't see it concluding any other way. "Once we got there, I understood Brad's argument," he said. "What would keep him from it?" he posed, in regards to "the final shot."
"Million Dollar Baby" (2004): Internet lore says Freeman was originally approached to play role of Frankie Dunn, which would eventually be played by the film's director, Clint Eastwood. Freeman doesn't remember it that way, and once again it all worked out well for him in the end. He'd win an Academy Award for his trainer/narrator Scrap-Iron, who aides Dunn in prepping an ill-fated amateur boxer (Hilary Swank).
"I thought Clint Eastwood would get the Oscar for it," Freeman said. "I thought he should've at least gotten a nomination." The movie itself won Best Picture.
The "Dark Knight" Trilogy (2005-2012): "I've always been a fan of Michael Caine's, and this was the first time I got to work with him," Freeman said. "So I guess that jumps out first."
As for Christian Bale's admission that he fell asleep while preparing to shoot his first scene with Freeman and Caine on "Batman Begins," Freeman doesn't vividly recall the moment: "He was in bed, so he might well have done that, yeah."
"Invictus" (2009): Freeman's most acclaimed role in recent years — and one that would land him a fifth Oscar nomination — would be portraying late South African leader Nelson Mandela. It was a momentous opportunity for Freeman, who was Mandela's first choice to play him onscreen.
"I told him in order to play him, I would need access to him, and he granted it," said Freeman, who also revealed he initially feared he couldn't pull off Madiba's Xhosa accent. "So first day on the set, [when] I opened my mouth and he came out, it was thrilling." Freeman also remembered what Mandela said when they showed him the final cut: "What he said was, 'Maybe now they'll remember me.'"
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