Morgan Freeman on 5 Roles That Defined His Career

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Warner Bros./Courtesy of Everett Collection

Morgan Freeman earned critical acclaim for one of his first lead film roles -- playing real-life New Jersey high school principal Joe Clark.

The veteran actor and five-time Golden Globe nominee, who will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award this Sunday, shares with THR the movies changed his life.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

On the eve of receiving this year's Cecil B. DeMille Award, veteran actor and five-time Golden Globe nominee Morgan Freeman reflects on five roles that have defined his career.

Lean on Me (1989)

Freeman earned critical acclaim for one of his first lead film roles -- playing real-life New Jersey high school principal Joe Clark.

"I most remember just being in the school with Joe. He helped me an awful lot. We shot the film right there, so every morning I could be there with him as he met the children coming into the building. The school was still functioning during our shoot! It was awesome. If I learned anything from this movie, it was that if you want to portray a living person, you need a lot of emotional input from him. That was a good lesson."

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Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Freeman earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for his turn as dutiful driver Hoke Colburn in Bruce Beresford's film adaptation of Alfred Uhry's play.

"I had done the role for 11 months Off Broadway, so I was very familiar with it. In fact, I heard Jessica [Tandy] was intimidated by the fact that I'd had all that rehearsal before the movie. But we did well together; I'd always been a big, big fan of hers; she'd been acting since like the age of 15! I won the Globe, and then at the Oscars that year -- it was my second nomination -- I kinda thought I was going to win it. But Daniel Day-Lewis won for My Left Foot, so no argument there."

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

In director Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's novella, Freeman played a prison inmate alongside Tim Robbins. The role earned him Globe, Oscar and SAG nominations.

"Most of what I remember is that when I read the script, I didn't know which character to read for. When my agent told me it was Red, I couldn't believe they were giving me the movie! I never imagined it would be that character. Tim and I fell into each other as actors; it was one of those easy experiences. I was very surprised that the film didn't get a better reception. It got great reviews, but nobody went to see it. I think the reason was the title. It was confusing! If you can't sell the title, you can't get people to see it."

Bruce Almighty (2003)

Freeman channeled the Almighty in Tom Shadyac's mega-hit comedy starring Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston.

"Well, you can't mess up playing a character you've never seen. I've never really met God face-to-face, so I was sorta making it up as I went along. Tom didn't give me much direction -- I gave him directions, and he allowed it! Working with Jimmy was a lot of fun. He is one hardworking actor. Very intelligent, very smart guy. He works his butt off. We really enjoyed each other."

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Freeman earned Globe and SAG nominations and won his first Academy Award for a supporting turn as veteran boxing trainer Eddie Dupris in Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning drama.

"Clint is my most favorite director of all. Hooking up again with him after making Unforgiven was really fun. Hilary Swank is another one of those hardworking actors. I remember seeing her in Boys Don't Cry; the amount of work she did to prepare for Million Dollar Baby was astounding. Only a trainer knows what she went through to get to what we saw onscreen. When I won my first Oscar, it actually kinda of felt anticlimactic. I guess you just sort of know you can only get so many nominations before they decide, 'Oh, why don't we just give it to him?'"