If you happen to spot Morgan Freeman on the street, do not ask him for a selfie. “Everyone wants you to stop whatever you’re doing and have a selfie. They’ll even ask you on the elevator: ‘Oh hi! Do you mind?’ I do mind,” says the actor known as the voice of God.
The spry 79-year-old has even forgone his daily work-out for fear of the phone brigade. “I’ve taken care of my body for most of my working life,” he adds.
“Hollywood won’t even let me retire. Of course, I can afford to retire, but now I do it for the fun”
He began his career as a dancer in musical theatre, making his Broadway debut in a 1968 all-black version of Hello Dolly!. “I owe a lot of my exercise regimen to dance because it’s a wonderful set of exercises for mind and body. But I can’t work out on the road.
“I can’t even go to a nice hotel gym because everyone goes, ‘Oh my god,’ and gets the cameras out. Nobody is without their camera. I even see homeless guys with their cameras.” He will occasionally make exceptions: “If it’s a really, really pretty woman.”
He has no such concerns back at home in Charleston, Mississippi, where he has a 124-acre ranch. “I’ve been [there] now for many years, so everybody got their selfies years ago. They’re done with it now. I can go shopping and eat in restaurants without any bother.”
Success, however, didn’t arrive until he was 50, when Driving Miss Daisy finally landed him on every director’s wish list. His career might have taken off earlier had he not rejected a university theatre scholarship to enlist in the US Air Force; his passion for flight was soon crushed by the reality of warfare, and he left after four years.
He began working in theatre in pursuit of his original dream and landed a regular role on the children’s TV show, The Electric Company, in the early 1970s. The monotony of the job turned him to the bottle: “That job was so undemanding, I began drinking. I thought it was all I would ever get,” says Freeman.
“Becoming an actor is a big risk. I don’t care what your reasons for doing it; you’re gonna have to step off the cliff. And timing is everything – where you are and when.
“There were times I feared I’d be an old man and never have got to do what I wanted. I just couldn’t get arrested when I was a younger man, and now I’ve reached retirement age, it seems Hollywood won’t even let me retire. Of course, I can afford to retire, but now I do it for the fun.”
He has made more than 50 films since he chauffeured Miss Daisy, including box-office hits The Lego Movie and Se7en as well as Bruce Almighty, which forever typecast him as God. As much as he enjoys his long-overdue achievement, it’s bittersweet, too. “As I started to move as an actor, at some point I got to a place where I knew that becoming a ‘star’ was a mistake, because you can’t ever disappear again.”
His latest film, Going in Style, directed by Zach Braff, is a comedy about three pensioners who plan to rob the bank which ripped off their retirement funds, Freeman is the youngster in the trio, alongside Alan Arkin, 83, and Michael Caine, 84.
“We had a young director who was in awe of all of us, so he was easy to work with. None of us likes to be directed, so you can shut a young one up real quick. You don’t want to get a legend and say: ‘OK, do this.’ It’s more like: ‘Would you mind please’?”
If Going in Style is a senior buddy caper, at heart it carries a message about friendship and loyalty. “I think one of the keys to lasting friendship is not to ask for anything. ‘You’re my friend; I need’ gets old in a few years. I have a lot of guy friends but most of my long-term close friends are women. I don’t do men very well.”
His friendships with his fellow actors tend to remain on set. He became close with Caine after working together on The Dark Knight trilogy and two Now You See Me films, but “actors seldom hang out with actors,” he says. “We’re never in the same place more than five minutes. I live in Mississippi and Michael lives in London – we’re not going to pop to each other’s homes for dinner.”
At 6’2”, Freeman cuts a striking figure, with his mane of white hair and gold earrings, dapper shirt and slacks. On his right hand, he wears a cream suede compression glove, a reminder of a car accident nine years ago.
“I almost cut my arm off and suffered nerve damage as a result. I have dead fingers. If you can’t move your fingers, they swell up because the blood isn’t flowing,” says the actor.
“I almost cut my arm off and suffered nerve damage as a result. I have dead fingers”
The brush with death has not dampened his enthusiasm for fast cars or planes. At the age of 65, he earned his private pilot’s licence and still flies his own private jet.
He enjoys the trappings of success, whether sailing his yacht around the Caribbean, hanging out in his blues club, Ground Zero in nearby Clarksdale, Mississippi, or relaxing at his ranch, which he has partially turned into a
As for family life, he has nine grandchildren, though his 23-year marriage to second wife Myrna Colley-Lee ended in divorce seven years ago.
“I’m from Mississippi of sable persuasion,” he says of his background. “My parents were domestics for a while, and I’m not saying that I came from poverty because I think poverty is more a state of mind than a state of being. But having little is something that I’m very familiar with.”
When he starred in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 slave trade film Amistad, he was prompted to test his DNA, from which he learned that his ancestors were slaves descended from the Tuareg people of Niger.
“I have a lot of guy friends but most of my long-term close friends are women. I don’t do men very well”
Going In Style contains a poignant scene in which the three old-timers debate how many years they have left. In real life, Freeman refuses to entertain such maudlin thoughts.
“I want to live forever. I’m just too curious to die. I’m not a nostalgic person. The past is the past, and I keep looking for tomorrow. I haven’t led one of those lives where you have nostalgia.”
This post originally appeared at inews.co.uk