Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman created the role of Hoke Colburn in the 1987 stage production of Driving Miss Daisy, which he reprised in the 1989 Oscar winning movie. He has gone on to star is three Clint Eastwood films, Unforgiven, Invitus, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby, He has also starred in such Hollywood blockbusters as Batman Begin, The Dark Knight, Se7en, Shawshank Redemption, Bruce Almighty and Amistad.
His new movie RED is his second film with Bruce Willis. They made Lucky Number Slevin together in 2006. In RED he portrays Joe Matheson, a former CIA agent now living in a retirement home, who along with his fellow retirees, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) find themselves the target of would be assassins.
Can you talk about your attraction to doing this movie?
You can’t pass up an opportunity like that. It’s a good Bruce Willis shot-um-up movie. Clearly I knew I’d be working with Bruce again, and he and I always have a lot of fun on the set.
But I didn’t know I was going to get a shot at working with Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Richard Dreyfuss, too. I mean there is nothing better than getting to work with people you greatly admire, people who have ‘the chops’ as they say in the music business; people who bring it to the table every day. Nobody was shucking and jiving on this show. Everybody was playing their A-game.
Did you see the movie? Did the cast impress you? Me too. I really love Bruce, and Helen and Mary-Louise and John.
Can you talk about the comedic tone of the film?
I didn’t really think of this movie as having a comic approach, when I read the script or when we were working on it. I had no idea it was going to turn out to be something that was just a lark, so to speak. It’s a lot of fun. So I’m caught a little surprised there.
It’s a good surprise. It’s better to go in and do something very straight and have it turn out funny, than to go in and try to make it funny and have it turn out ridiculous.
Can you talk a little about working with Bruce?
What I like about Bruce is pretty much what I like about working with any actor dedicated to what they’re doing. He’s fun on the set, when they say, ‘Cut,’ he cuts, and we can go on and talk about whatever we were talking about or doing whatever we were doing.
Also we have the same kind of approach to dealing with directors, we ask them, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ Ask them that and they’ll stop and think for a minute before they ask you to do another take!
Out of all the action movies you’ve done which is your favorite?
The most action I did was in Robin Hood, I think I was 50-something years old by then, and it almost killed me. Your stunt double can only do so much and you have to be in there too, doing all that running and jumping.
You seem to enjoy playing historical figures, is that true?
I would play an historical figure any day, any time, anybody. I would like to play George Washington. I’m kidding. I don’t have anybody in mind, I have incidents in mind. There’s a lot of American history that has left out a lot of people that I think needs to be revisited. I have a film company and I’m looking for ways to do that.
Yeah, in World War II there was a tank battalion that did a lot of fighting, they were attached to General Patton. It was an all-black tank battalion so, of course, Patton said, ‘Oh, you want to fight, huh? Okay.’ And they were out front for 183 days, and never got rotated back. That story needs to be told.
Have you had any contact with Nelson Mandela since portraying him in Invictus? And how do you think South Africa will grow in the future?
I have had contact with him since Invictus, I went back over there for his birthday to put focus on Mandela Day.
I think that South Africa is going to realize its potential because so much of the world is pulling for them, and they’re pulling so hard for themselves. Having gotten the (rugby) World Cup in South Africa, and proven to the world that they could pull something like that off, just gives them more incentive to keep going and to stay on the route they’re on. I think they’re going do well.
Will you do any more stage plays?
Stage work? In a word, no. I did The Country Girl, it was just a test. Can I still remember lines and can I still talk and reach the back wall without the radio mic on?
I’m not going back onstage. I’ve done that, and I can do it so I don’t need to prove to myself that I can. Really all my life I wanted to be an actor in the movies, so that’s where I am, that’s where I intend to stay.
Driving Miss Daisy is coming back to Broadway. Did they ask you to play the role of Hoke Colburn again?
No, I got a call from Alfred Uhry (the writer of the play) saying that they wanted to do it. It was just a very light feeler. Of course I didn’t know Vanessa Redgrave was going to be playing Miss Daisy! But I’m very anxious to see it. Jimmy Jones (James Earl Jones) and Vanessa, that’s got to be an event.