Recently one of the finest American actors, Morgan Freeman stood inside the Cinema Building at Los Angeles Community College (LACC) and smiled. The last time he was on this campus was 60 years ago, and now his alma mater was rededicating a lecture hall to read The Morgan Freeman Theater.
Walking across campus with Dr. Mary Gallagher, President of Los Angeles City College and Shaena Engle, Public Relations Manager, students stopped and did a double-take as Freeman posed for photos and greeted many along the way.
Inside the Camino Theater, Engle took Freeman aside to see two decorated bulletin boards honoring this esteem actor. He was touched that someone took the time to cut out each one of the movies that he appeared in during his long and successful acting career. He pointed to “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) and said he liked working with Director Clint Eastwood. The movie won four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Freeman. Pointing to “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) he said he had a great time on this movie with actor Tim Robbins. Then he found “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and said “that was one of my least favorite.”
Journalist and Board Member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Anke Hofmann, moderated and read questions by students inquiring about Freeman’s days at LACC. They wanted to know how he became an actor, how he handles rejection in the entertainment industry, and what advice can he give to them.
Here’s what he said:
Education: Actors have a lot of reading, maybe not in the beginning, but you will have a lot to read. Looking for a job when he arrived in Hollywood after four years in the Air Force, he was hired at LACC as a transcript clerk. His plan was to make some money and take acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse. While at LACC a co-worker said, “Why would you do that? We have the best theatre program in LA and its free.” So Freeman enrolled Theatre 101, and then Theatre 102, Speech and Diction and French. He worked in the transcript office 8 hours, ate dinner, and then went to class. He was dedicated to go to school and get what he wanted. One of the most useful classes was a Speech class, where her learned about the development of the voice. “Most people speak in a voice too high, and in the class, we learned how to speak in a lower voice. Most people speak too fast, so we learned how to slow down.” He learned how his develop his commanding voice in a lower octave and enunciate each word.
Acting Technique: When asked what acting technique he uses, he replied “The Morgan Freeman technique – intuition. It’s what I get when I read a script. Life and the craft became my teachers.”
Persistence: If you want to act, do it! It’s not an easy road at all for anybody, at no time. Getting jobs is like the weather, if you run out of here and get a job and zoom up, you will zoom down. If it takes you a while to get up, it will take you a while to get back down. Don’t give up. If you want to do it, you have to stick to it!
Preparation: Yawn it will relax your vocal cords.
Work With People You Admire: All three movies he did with Clint Eastwood were extraordinary experiences. Eastwood is an efficient director, “Get it, got it, good.” When Freeman received the extraordinary script “Invictus”, and was asked who he thought should direct the film, Freeman immediately said Clint Eastwood. “It was one of the most fun productions I worked on,” Freeman said.
How he got his start: In the fall of 1960, Freeman sold his car and moved to New York. “Anyone can get a job in New York” and after five months, he moved to San Francisco and took dance classes studying ballet, jazz and tap with a goal to get on Broadway. He hoped he could be the one black person. While a member of the small repertory company, he had a life changing experience when someone told him “You aren’t a dancer, you are an actor.”
In September 1963, he went back to New York and worked on a movie. It was a night shot, and slowly actors were being told they weren’t needed anymore, until Freeman was the last man standing. At that moment, he realized that this is where he belonged.
Learn to say NO! The moment he knew he didn’t have to work to be an actor was in 1967. He was auditioning for an off Broadway play and they called him back twice to come in and audition again. The third time they called him, he said “No, I’m not coming back” and they hired him. With this role he was able to get an agent and press. Next he got a role in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway with Pearl Bailey at the St. James Theatre. His advice to success in showbiz is to never do a show for more than 11 months. You need to move on. Even though he was making $92 a week at “Hello, Dolly!”, when he was offered a role in Cabaret for less money, $72 a week, he took it and received even more press. “What’s more important, money or publicity? Publicity!”
Advice to student actors: “Acting is a do or die profession,” said Freeman. Acting was all he wanted, and he didn’t want to have a fall back career. “All of us can make a living in the business, maybe not superstars, but you can work.” In dealing with rejection, he said, “You are going to be rejected, you will reasonably get a percentage of rejections, but you will work. When you have an audition, it’s a shot, and that is a big moment.” Work on making your videos and short stories. The movie industry is dynamic and with so much streaming going on, there is a big thrust of material.
Embarrassing moment: Freeman said the most embarrassing moment in his career was when he made a fool of himself in a production of Othello in Dallas, Texas. Wearing harem pants and a blousy shirt with a head band, someone in the audience thought he looked like Jimi Hendrix and shouted out “Play Purple Haze.”
Directing advice: When asked about his directing debut, he shared what the late Mike Nichols once said, “The Director’s job is finished once the casting is done. The most important job of directing is casting and then getting out of the way.”
Freeman always has a welcoming home at LACC, and inside the Cinema Building his name on the wall of a lecture hall gives hopes to students who desire to follow his footsteps.
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