The owner of one of the most distinctive speaking voices in the world, actor Morgan Freeman was born in 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee. He first came to prominence and the attention of the world via roles in the soap opera Another World and, most notably, in the children’s television show The Electric Company.
He was something of a latecomer to cinema, taking on support roles in the late 1980s, most notably garnering a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the Jerry Schatzberg film Street Smart in 1987.
Over the past two decades, he has become best known for not only iconic roles in such fares like The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en and Million Dollar Baby, but also his voice, used brilliantly in many a film as voiceover and narration form. An excellent formal use of Freeman’s voice is the documentary The March Of The Penguins
The man also has this aura and gravitas to his persona that is unique. It is one of incredible calm that can instill trust and calm in viewers. In both his onscreen roles and the way he conducts himself in the real world, he is the equivalent of an older family relative or friend that’s been around the block a few times as far as life is concerned, seen it all and is much wiser for the process. This is one of many qualities that separate him from the pack in regards to other actors out there.
Occasionally, it’s fun to watch Freeman play with that on occasion, such as the film Wanted, where he swears like a wharfie at one point-it’s like hearing God cuss! Another example is the immensely enjoyable action comedy Red, where Freeman taps into a ‘dirty old man’ persona as part of a stellar cast including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker.
Here are ten choices from the back catalogue of this wonderful and immensely charismatic actor that are well worth your time.
10. Bruce Almighty (2003) Directed by Tom Shadyac
“Bruce Almighty”, while an enjoyable and highly watchable comedy about a normal man given God-like powers, it really lifts its game anytime Morgan Freeman, playing God, is on screen.
With that beautiful ‘gravitas’ he has, he also has a great deal of fun with the role. One can’t help but smile seeing the man play the most identifiable of deities on screen. Whoever was responsible for casting was truly inspired with this choice.
9. The Bucket List (2007) Directed by Rob Reiner
While somewhat obvious in its intent, Rob Reiner’s “The Bucket List” has a big heart to it that is impossible to completely dismiss or ignore. Alongside Jack Nicholson, Freeman plays a man with terminal cancer who puts together a ‘bucket list’, namely the things that one wants to do before he ‘kicks the bucket’ and dies.
As in many other roles, Freeman brings a warmth and humanism to a role that, in lesser hands, would come off as two-dimensional and false. He also has considerable chemistry with Nicholson, who plays a wildly different character from that of Freeman. The way in which these two characters affect each other’s lives is the living, breathing and beating heart of this comedy-drama.
Like “The Shawshank Redemption”, this is another film that has entered the world consciousness, with the term ‘bucket list’ becoming a common saying in the language of the world.
8. Invictus (2009) Directed by Clint Eastwood
Working with director Clint Eastwood for the third time, this film sees Freeman taking on one of the most iconic of roles, that of South African freedom fighter and later President Nelson Mandela. He brings that dignity and grace that he is best known for to the fore in this excellent film.
The story of “Invictus” covers a time when South Africa was in a state of change, with Mandela released from jail after twenty-seven years and the abolishment of Apartheid, Freeman embodies a man that preaches peace in an uncertain and challenging period of world history.
Set in 1995, this film depicts Mandela, in his first term as Prime Minister, enlisting the country’s rugby team to win the World Cup that year and unite the people of the country. While rugby is not a sport that translates well across the world, the essence of Mandela finding peaceful means of bringing his people together is what gives “Invictus” its strength.
Again, this is Freeman displaying that beautiful sense of dignity and decency as an actor, something that is always a joy to watch.
7. Amistad (1997) Directed by Steven Spielberg
“Amistad” sees director Steven Spielberg in ‘serious’ mode, as he was in his deeply felt 1993 masterpiece “Schindler’s List”. Here, he looks at a slave uprising on the boat Amistad in 1839. The film addresses the concept and idea of ‘freedom’, primarily via a courtroom drama addressing the uprising on the boat.
Freeman plays Theodore Joadson, a free black man who, along with Lewis Tappan (Stellan Skarsgard), is a man in favour of abolishing slavery and freeing the men responsible for the uprising on the ship.
This was another excellent performance from Freeman to add to the overall quality and consistency of the work that had gone before.
6. Glory (1989) Directed by Edward Zwick
Playing Sgt. Major John Rawlins, this is one of the first roles that brought Freeman to the attention of the world in general. The story is about the first all-black fighting unit during the Civil War
Looking at racism and prejudice, Freeman’s character is something of a spiritual leader to his fellow soldiers. Even at this early stage of his acting career, Freeman brings a certain emotional weight to his role, something that one usually associates with older actors.
Featuring Matthew Broderick, Carey Elwes and an early Denzel Washington, who won his first Oscar for his supporting role here, “Glory” is a compelling tale of American history that is beautifully told.
A powerful film, it showcased what was distinctive about Freeman as an actor and gave signs of what was to follow in regards to his career.