Morgan Freeman has spent a lifetime becoming one of Hollywood’s A-listers, but there’s nowhere he’d rather be than his Mississippi home
Morgan Freeman is both there and not there. He is absolutely present when you are with him—attentive, engaging. And he is certainly present in his acting, in which, exquisitely, he never seems to fill more space than he needs to, but fills that completely.
When he’s not in front of you either physically or on a screen, however, he’s in effect invisible, which is what is required for privacy these days. He doesn’t permeate supermarket tabloids or the infinite iterations of cable entertainment-news shows, and he’s not part of the rotting rubbish heap of celebrity gossip that’s now so ubiquitous we’ve come to think of it as reality. He has had precisely one scandal in just over seventy-four years on the planet, and that little balloon of sensationalism deflated as quickly as it was puffed up, when it was concluded that a car accident with a female passenger, around the time his twenty-four-year-long marriage was ending, was a legitimate accident, and that the woman with him was not a lover.
But Freeman is not shy. He has a powerful sense of self and a charismatic blend of the gentle arrogance that comes from attaining the highest level of confidence and the humility that results from having had one’s ass kicked by life more than a few times. In person his famous deep, annunciatory voice is slightly quieter. He sits erectly at a table, like an athlete, without the seemingly unavoidable stoop of age, and stands straight and ever so slightly imperiously.
He is so often asked the well-meaning but inescapably patronizing question of how he ever got out of Mississippi that his answer is automatic: “I took the bus!” The more intriguing question is, Why did he come back? “I realized it’s where I was happiest,” Freeman says. “It’s where I belong.” He lives just outside the town of Charleston, on land that his grandparents owned; he bought it from his parents in 1991, and built a beautiful new hacienda-style house on the site. A passionate horseman, he has a number of mounts on the property. Not far away in Clarksdale, he and his closest friend and partner, Bill Luckett, own the world-renowned Ground Zero Blues club and, down the street, an upscale, Michelin star–worthy restaurant, Madidi.
As with Sidney Poitier a generation earlier, it’s hard to imagine that Morgan Freeman hasn’t always been a movie star, film royalty. And as with Poitier, it’s a disservice (or at least inadequate) to call him the best black actor of his generation, when he stands in contention for best actor, period. But he was fifty before he landed his first major movie role, despite two decades of acclaim—not just good reviews but mesmerized critical acclaim—as a stage actor. That film role, as the chillingly menacing pimp Fast Black in Street Smart, earned him an Oscar nomination and propelled him to the front of Hollywood’s mind, where he has remained ever since. This summer Freeman will return as Lucius Fox in the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.