It's hard to imagine that an actor as talented as Morgan Freeman would ever have trouble landing any role he auditioned for, but the 78-year-old Hollywood veteran says that's exactly what happened during his earlier days as a young artist. It was the 1980s, he said, and Freeman was struck by the lack of parts for African-American actors -- but it wasn't this scarcity that cost him jobs; it was his outspokenness about it.
As Freeman told "Oprah's Master Class" in the above video, he had made a promise to himself before he ever got into acting, based on all the movies he used to watch as a young black man living in Chicago.
"I went to the movies all the time. I've seen the movies. And at some point, it struck me rather dramatically how much I wasn't in the movies, not the way I needed to be in the movies," Freeman said. "If you look at a lot of the disaster movies in that period, the only people left on the planet were white. Now, my thing is, if I get in the movies, I want to make sure that I speak about that."
It's a vow he kept, even calling out the lack of prominent African-American roles in the middle of auditions. One of those memorable moments happened when Freeman had the opportunity to appear in a remake of "The Thing."
"I read the script, and I go back for the audition. The producer or director, one of those, said, 'Did you read the script?... What did you think?'" Freeman recalled. "I said, 'Well, you've got 11 people at the South Pole. Eight of them are scientists. Then you have a cook, a mechanic and something else; they're all black. None of the scientists are. What do you think I think?'
"Needless to say, I didn't get that job," he continued, with a chuckle. "So, there was a period there in the early '80s when I didn't get any work."
Then, in the late '80s, Freeman was cast in the Academy Award-winning film "Glory," about the first all-African American formal military unit. It was a role he was truly proud of.
"I was just floored, because I knew about the 54th Massachusetts Regiment," Freeman said. "The history is there to draw upon, but we've got to ask ourselves -- 'we,' me, black people -- why don't we figure more in it?"
Since then, of course, Freeman has appeared in many acclaimed films, from "The Shawshank Redemption" to "The Dark Knight Rises." And, as he decided at the start of his career, Freeman hasn't compromised his personal values. Even today, the actor continues to follow his principles through his path of success.
"I need something that's going to engage me, that makes me sit up and think," Freeman said. "I refuse to take part in anything that is going to denigrate a people. Especially me."
"Oprah's Master Class" returns for its fifth season on Sunday, Oct. 25, at 8 p.m. ET. Upcoming masters include Ellen DeGeneres, Robert Duvall, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, Smokey Robinson, Jeff Bridges, James Taylor and Patti LaBelle.
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