This past Saturday was a truly magnificent night for those in attendance at the annual Gene Siskel Film Center of The School of the Art Institute Chicago’s annual fundraiser. Hosted at the Ritz- Carlton Hotel Chicago, “A Candid Conversation” with legendary actor Morgan Freeman was co-chaired by Melissa Sage Fadim and Eda Davidman. The event celebrated Freeman’s extensive filmography and influence on the film industry by awarding him with The Gene Siskel Film Center Renaissance Award.
Prior to the sit down dinner and conversation that followed, Mr. Freeman answered a few questions for on the media line. When asked why he’s not on/active social media channels such as twitter, instagram or Facebook his frank answer is the reason you won’t find him on it is because he’s technologically stupid and never been interested in that.
When asked what advice he can give to rising stars, not just in the film industry, looking to follow the path to carving out a legendary career he advised them to “learn the truth in yourself.”
The one piece of advise he’s been given that’s taken him through the years was “don’t look for trouble.”
Attendees were also able to enjoy an exchange between Freeman and director John Turteltaub as they shared jokes, behind-the-scenes insight, and inspiration. Freeman’s humility was evident as Turteltaub recounted his beginnings as a “poor kid in Mississippi” who spent most of his childhood moving around to places such as Greenwood, Mississippi; Gary, Indiana; and Chicago, Illinois warranting Governor Pat Quinn to declare June 7 Morgan Freeman Day.
Freeman’s college years consisted of attending theater and dance classes, which has clearly paid off. When asked about his preferred method of acting, Freeman expressed that he liked to get scenes done in the first take. Some actors that he’s worked with prefer “pumping,” which entails getting the perfect scene through multiple takes—sometimes upwards of ten!—and while he appreciates their attention to craft, Freeman believes that most actor’s best scenes are those done the first time.
Interspersed through the night were clips showcasing Freeman’s impressive filmography, including Glory, The Shawshank Redemption, Bruce Almighty, Million Dollar Baby, The Dark Knight, Las Vegas, Invictus, and many more.
In looking at his incredible cinematic feats, it’s easy to forget that Freeman has also had a successful career in theater. Before taking on his on screen role as Hoke Colburn in the film adaptation of “Driving Miss Daisy,” he played the same character in the original play. As an off-Broadway production, Freeman revealed that it was rare for stage actors to reprise their roles in film remakes. The character of Miss Daisy, while played by Jessica Tandy in the film, was portrayed by Dana Ivey. Freeman shared that there was, in fact, a high chance that he wouldn’t have gotten the part, but the film producers liked what they saw, and the film went on to win four Academy Awards in 1990.
The conversation wasn’t just a series of serious exchanges, Turteltaub and Freeman spoke like long-time friends throughout the night.
Freeman shared a piece in his experience performing “Othello”—the only role, he said, that he felt challenged him beyond his ability. He shared that his costume included harem pants, a sash, and a band around his head—which included his signature ‘fro. The first time he got on stage, someone in the audience yelled out: “Sing Purple Haze!” It was a performance he would probably reject if given the opportunity to do it over.
To close the night, Turteltaub asked if there were any roles that Freeman has ever turned away, or had passed on to another actor. “If I had passed on [a role],” he joked “It wouldn’t go anywhere, and if they had given it to someone else, it definitely wouldn’t have gone anywhere.”
The seasoned actor was presented the The Gene Siskel Film Center Renaissance Award to a standing ovation. And with that, the night with Morgan Freeman ended. All proceeds from “A Candid Conversation with Morgan Freeman,” will benefit progressive initiatives by the Gene Siskel Film Center.
*image credit: Rob Carl