November 12, 2014
LOS ANGELES (November 12, 2014)—Last night, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman delighted Oxford University students and filled the rafters of the Oxford Union at University of Oxford, U.K. with an evening that provided serious insight into both the man Morgan Freeman and into the profession of acting. The event was the first in a partnership between the Oxford University Union and the Screen Actors Guild Foundation to feature a special Conversations series with legendary actors discussing craft and career with students, alumni and performers at Oxford.
At the inaugural SAG Foundation Conversations at Oxford, Freeman demonstrated his wit, his character and his straightforward manner by getting through over 30 questions in the hour long event.
The evening began at 8:00 p.m. GMT with an interview between Oxford Union President Mayank Banerjee and Mr. Freeman. Banerjee explored Freeman’s early career from the age of 8 onwards, his first career as a pilot in the air force and his decision to pursue acting full-time. Morgan spoke of his first film break Harry and Son (1984) and the series of opportunities that followed including one of his most memorable performances, playing Nelson Mandela in Invictus (2009). Freeman talked of the personal request from Mandela that Freeman should play him and the many times that Freeman met Mandela to get to know Mandela in preparation for the film.
The first question from the floor consisted of a long and rambling series of statements that didn’t end with an obvious question. “Is there a question?” asked Freeman to applause and laughter.
What roles did Morgan enjoy most? “I enjoyed playing a pimp in Street Smart, I enjoyed Driving Miss Daisy, I enjoyed working with Clint (Eastwood) in Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.
Freeman talked of his respect for his idol the black actor Sidney Poitier, but Morgan refused to pander to predictable questions about ethnicity: “I don’t want to be called African-American. Why not? Because I’m not African!” “I don’t think race is an issue in Hollywood. Hollywood is colour blind, it only sees green… if it makes money the walls come tumbling down.” “I don’t believe in black history month. Do we also need a Jewish history month and a white history month? If you try to cover black history in a month you will fail.”
Freeman similarly dismissed the suggestion that Hollywood was sexist: “Streep, Blanchett, Roberts, Thurman, Kidman… no I don’t think there’s an unfair portrayal of women in Hollywood.”
Freeman’s views on the nature of acting? “I don’t think of acting as an art form. I think of it as a profession. You do it because you have to do it. Writers write, painters paint, actors act.” Freeman demystified the acting process: “How do you prepare?” “I read the script” How has his approach to acting changed? “I now feel secure in my person. I’ve always felt secure in my ability” “I’m not a method actor, I just “intuit and do it.”
Asked for advice: “Get a job, act! Being a star is way out there in the ether. Act! Work!”
Freeman received his best piece of advice from a train conductor: “Never look for trouble.”
Freeman battled though many ridiculous and wordy questions showing wit and impatience in equal measure, begging the audience at one point: “Just questions please, no more dissertations,” and answering several questions with mono-syllabic answers: “When you were playing God, did you feel you had big shoes to fill?” “No.”
Freeman demonstrated great humanity and charmed the audience with his plain and natural manner: “Being treated like a visiting dignitary, police escorts, that’s OK. The trick is to remember that this is just circus…can I say “bullshit?” (yes).. This is just circus bullshit. It’s not real. I only have an entourage when I’m working. They work when I work; that’s all.”
His closing advice? “Discipline and humility, mostly discipline. Every night I pray, ‘Lord help me.’ Nobody else can.”
Freeman left to a standing ovation. Oxford Union members who queued for up to four hours to gain entrance were well rewarded by this unique opportunity to meet one of the greatest actors of all time, an evening of insight and laughter in equal measure.
The inaugural Conversations with Morgan Freeman at Oxford was recorded and will be available in the SAG Foundation video gallery (sagfoundation.org/video-gallery) in the coming days.
Photo credit: Roger Askew/Oxford Union
Notes for Editors
The Oxford Union Society, founded in 1823, is a debating, educational, and social society, membership of which is open to all matriculated members of Oxford University (and many other notable educational establishments). Founded on a platform of the Freedom of Speech, when religion and politics were off-limits within the University, we exist separately from Oxford University and Oxford University Student Union (OUSU). Harold Macmillan called the Union “the last bastion of free speech in the Western world.”
Presidents and Officers are elected termly by ballot of the entire membership, which continues (in most cases) for life. The Society is headed by the President (who organises debates and manages the Society), supported by the Librarian (who invites individual speakers and runs the library), the Treasurer (who administers budgets and the maintenance of the buildings), and the Secretary (who minutes meetings and organises social events). The Society’s governing body is the Standing Committee, which encompasses a wide variety of experience and representation.
The President for Michaelmas 2014 (Oct-Dec) is Mr Mayank Banerjee (St. John’s College)
The President for Hilary 2015 (Jan-Mar) is Ms Lisa Wehden (Worcester College)
For details of events see: www.oxford-union.org/termcard
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