Morgan Freeman–Oscar winner and voice of god, and president of the United States in movies, gets the American Film Institute lifetime achievement award tonight. The show airs on TVLand. (My god, what happened to these shows being on CBS?) The show was taped about ten days ago at Sony Studios in Los Angeles. Our Leah Sydney was there to meet some of the guests, including Clint Eastwood, Betty White, Sidney Poitier, Rita Moreno, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew Broderick, Matthew McConnaughey, and Garth Brooks--who sings on the special. (No sign of Freeman’s “Bucket List” co-star Jack Nicholson or director Rob Reiner. They must have been out of town.)
The best encounter of the night? Eastwood telling Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds what a fan he is of his music. Babyface couldn’t believe it. No one else could believe this: Clint just strolled into the event without any handlers and mingled away. He is the coolest.
The evening hosted an array of Morgan’s celebrity friends. His close friend, and his self described “inspiration and mentor” Sidney Poiter started the night (he was honored with the award in 1992) telling the audience, that “Morgan made his first film at the age of 50 (playing a pimp in Street Smart opposite Christopher Reeve. He is a character actor and a real character. He’s a prince of his craft.”
Rita Moreno, Morgan’s co-star read a sassy poem in her own style. She told us that she’s coming to Broadway hopefully soon with her one woman show, “Life Without Makeup.”
Sam Jackson told us that “I’m filming the Avengers now in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s hot, really hot. After that I go to Broadway to play Martin Luther King in “Mountain Top.” And Ben Vereen told us he’s heading back to Broadway as well with, “Stepping Out With Ben Vereen.”
Betty White, Morgan’s longtime friend and co-star in 1998’s “Hard Rain,” Betty quipped, “I did that to work with you Morgan, and of course the cash, “was accompanied by six chorus men. She sang a take off on ‘Hello Dolly,’ Hello Morgan, with the line, “We’ve all known you also made some crap Morgan,” then she was on a kick line with them. Betty then turned to Clint sitting in the audience, “Clint, I didn’t know you were here. I haven’t seen you since Carmel,” as she winked to the audience. “Clint, you are so cute. Call me.” This sexy invite cracked Clint up.
Samuel L. Jackson recounted the story that he was Morgan’s understudy years ago at a play at the public theater. “Morgan was the first one to tell me I had a future. He also told me I’d never go on cause he would never miss a performance.”
Matthew McConaughey, his co-star in “Amistad,” told the crowd that Morgan is: “Grace, presence, voice, constitution, the attraction for you and the self respect you have for yourself. He’s sobriety in a storm, elegance. A man who is at home in the world wherever he is. His appetite for life is insatiable. “
Matthew Broderick, Morgan’s co-star in Glory honored him, as well as Helen Mirren, Tim Robbins, Forest Whitaker, Casey Affleck, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Don Cheadle. Video tributes were from Chris Rock, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Ashley Judd and Renee Zellweger.
Garth Brooks sang Bill Withers‘s classic, “Lean on Me,” title of a well known Freeman film.
Then 81 year old Clint presented the award to 74 year old Morgan. Clint said, “Don’t take this the wrong way Morgan, I know I’m older than you, but I grew up watching you. I mean I really didn’t grow up until I was 40, and I would watch The Electric Company with my son. When we did “Invictus,”everyone thought he was Nelson Mandela, he was born to play that role. Even Nelson Mandela thought he was Nelson Mandela. He is the greatest actor ever. You don’t have to tell him much because he knows stuff. Just give him a comfortable atmosphere. I don’t know if it’s proper to love another man like I do him, this is as close as I’m going to get.”
Morgan then told the crowd, “This is hard to believe. Where I come from in Mississippi, they call this ‘walking in high cotton.’ Acting is my heaven and tonight you told me I’m pretty good at it. Movies unite, entertain, teach and inspire. They touch the common humanity of the 7 billion people that call earth home. That is why the AFI is so important. I’m proud to be an actor, although tonight you made me feel like a star. I realize the poetry and truth of the words, ‘I am the master of my universe an the captain of my soul.’”
(RF: No one mentions this, but I will: Morgan Freeman came from New York theater. And in the early 1980s, his big break was appearing on NBC’s soap opera “Another World” with Joe Morton, Petronia Paley, and the late Howard Rollins, Jr. Losing the New York soaps is going to have a bigger impact on prime time TV and the movies than anyone realizes. But that’s another story.)