“I always was an actor,” says 74-year-old Morgan Freeman, who is reminiscing about one of his early “acting” memories. “I didn’t become an actor, this is what I was meant to do. I remember an incident when I was 5 years old. I had a friend, and we used to play different kinds of games.”
While growing up in rural Mississippi, Freeman and a friend were playing “horse and buggy”. “What you do is that you get a clothes line and wrap it around yourself if you are the horse,” Freeman recalls. “My friend was the driver, and we would go through the town. This lady, Mrs. Hackman, saw us running out there in the sun and said, ‘Why don’t you come in and drink some water?'” The future Oscar winner refused to break character, even choosing to stick his head in the cup and drink like a horse, letting loose with the occasional “neigh” between drinks.
Success did not come quickly for Freeman, waiting to strike until the actor turned 50 years old. That was the year “Street Smart” was released and he landed a starring role in the off-Broadway stage production of “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“My feeling is that all things happen in their own time,” Freeman says. “Your life is on a trajectory, and you have some control over it, but not all of it. People say, “Are you upset that it took so long for your career to get trajectory?,’ and I say, ‘No. It didn’t have to get trajectory at all.'”
Freeman was offered a scholarship to study drama at Jackson State University, but instead chose to enlist in the Air Force. “I had really decided when I was 16, I wanted to be a fighter pilot,” he says with a grin. “I was disposed of the notion of being one when I was 21. I got to actually climb up into a jet fighter. As I sat there, I had an epiphany.”
Young Freeman realized his dream to be a fighter pilot revolved around the romantic notion of war he took away from the movies. “There was no camera [in the cockpit],” he realized. “The romanticism of war is all about the movies. So I walked away from the Air Force after three years, eight months and 10 days.”
And Freeman made his way to Los Angeles. “I had an apartment in the Crenshaw district. I got out in February and ran out of money in late March. I almost starved in April. A lady friend worked at the Board of Education. She got me a job as a transcript clerk at Los Angeles City College.”
Invited to take classes for free, Freeman enrolled in acting, voice and diction and says it was his teacher, Robert Whitten, who helped him lose his Southern accent. “By the end of two semesters, people would say, ‘You must be an actor, you have a beautiful speaking voice.”