It's Not a Question of How; It's a Question of What
Date of Assessment: October 15, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Professional, trustworthy, dependable
Negative Buzzwords: See latter half of assessment.
The Case: Well, these weekly assessments have been running since January and have already covered two of the few other leading black men -- Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson -- who continue to make things happen in Hollywood. Naturally, each of them occupies a specific niche within cinema: Denzel has adopted the strong, steady path; Samuel prefers the frenetic, dynamic, risk-taking (yet more commercialized) approach. Then, there's Morgan Freeman, the late bloomer who plugged away for several years on "The Electric Company" and also spent a few decades on stage and television sets before hitting it big. Not until his early 50s did Freeman achieve mainstream name recognition and critical acclaim with late-1980s fare like Driving Miss Daisy and (in retrospect) an early atypical performance within Lean on Me. As Freeman's profile grew, so did the scope of his movies (The Bonfire of the Vanities; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Unforgiven; Amistad; Gone Baby Gone; and Invictus, just to name a few).
Quite often, Freeman's roles encapsulate the "magical negro" or, in simpler terms, very wise characters with moderate-to-heavy authoritative presences, who necessarily provide valuable perspective and advice to a main character (The Shawshank Redemption; Million Dollar Baby; Driving Miss Daisy; Se7en). Even more telling is that audiences accept Freeman even as he plays God (Bruce Almighty and its ill-fated follow-up effort, Evan Almighty) and Nelson Mandela, for crying out loud. In turn, Freeman has performed some rather marvelous variations on this character type by adding a twist of corruption in films like Lucky Number Slevin and Wanted. His vocal talents are also in demand, and while he's no James Earl Jones, Freeman's authoritatively aural abilities have been put to advantageous use by director Christopher Nolan in his contributions to the Batman franchise. Of course, some of Freeman's resumé entries (such as The Bucket List and Deep Impact) were probably things he did for the money, which is fine in limited supply because a guy has to feed his family. Now, Freeman might be known for often taking the same sort of roles, but he does it damn well, and audiences love him for it. Ultimately, Morgan Freeman carries a great reputation for delivering reliable performances (although some scripts haven't provided opportunity for such) and an overriding air of trustworthiness.
All of the above should be viewed as a cursory glance of information that can be found within many preexisting articles on other movie sites. So far, this is a fairly uneventful assessment that has merely acknowledged Freeman's well-regarded stature as an actor with nothing but success in his future. However, this is also a forum to discuss anything that could potentially damage an actor's career, so it's not entirely unprecedented to delve into matters of Freeman's (alleged) personal life. Normally, I do attempt to refrain from inserting personal matters into these assessments -- with a few duly noted exceptions such as the insufferable Gwyneth Paltrow and (in a much more restrained sense) Tom Cruise -- but the fact of the matter is that, in some instances, audiences are unable (or just unwilling) to separate actors from their performances. To some degree, we as moviewatchers are all a little bit elitist and would presume an unyielding ability to compartmentalize between art and the artists behind the work.
Still, there's that pesky fine line, which cannot be ignored; this is a topic that Dustin has discussed before in terms of Roman Polanski and Mel Gibson. Freeman's alleged misdeed -- a rumored romantic relationship with his step-granddaughter -- could most likely be compared to that of Woody Allen. Again, the rumor hasn't formally been substantiated but also hasn't been denied by any of the (allegedly) involved parties; still, if there ends up being any truth to the matter, Freeman potentially has a lot more to lose than the likes of Woody Allen, simply for the fact that Freeman usually plays roles that involve fiduciary relationships. If this should occur, the effect would be highly detrimental to Freeman's future career and ability to bring in box-office bucks. While it's true that dating a step-relative isn't, in and of itself, illegal if both parties are of majority age, it's also unclear just how much of a role that Freeman played in raising this young woman. If it was a matter of him changing her diapers or even just a very strong emotional bond during formative years, then dating her (even now) would point towards some pretty hardcore perving tendencies. This is particularly the case with an actor like Freeman, whose roles often involve the essence of trustworthiness, for audiences may no longer be able to separate the actor from his work (especially when it comes to an actor who appeared in 780 episodes of a PBS kids' television program).
Prognosis: Freeman's acting abilities remain nearly impossible to cut up. Next June, he shall receive a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute, which will only further cement his continued success. Still, there's the aforementioned lingering personal issue that could always muck things up real good. For now, since nobody knows the truth or falsity of the matter, let's just keep watching those Morgan Freeman movies, shall we?
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.