Morgan Freeman talks education, civil rights and career

TORONTO – Oscar winner Morgan Freeman spoke about education, equality and what’s on his bucket list during an interview Monday with Global News anchor Leslie Roberts.

Freeman was at the Toronto Centre for the Arts to accept the Key of Knowledge Award from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during A Celebration of Excellence.

“I thought it was life achievement [award], which is OK but I have a plethora of them,” Freeman said. “This is completely different. This has to do with my belief, my involvement and my work in education — and I’m getting to be proud of that.”

Monday’s gala raised $2 million, according to organizers, for the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada and to establish the Morgan Freeman Scholarship Fund for international students in the Public Health and Community Medicine Program at Hebrew University.

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Freeman, who said he got a good education growing up in Mississippi, said the modern education system needs to be fixed.

“A lot of teachers understand that they don’t have a profession anymore, they have a job. That’s a real letdown to people who dedicate themselves to such an important task,” he said. “We have to educate teachers now as well as kids. And we have to start children much earlier in education.”

Freeman, 75, said children need to be encouraged to read. “Probably the proudest thing is my life is that I had a library card when I was eight years old,” he recalled.

The star of films like Million Dollar Baby and Driving Miss Daisy, who lived through segregation, told Roberts the fight for civil rights and equality continues in the U.S.

“We have miles to go. You win one skirmish and you move on to the next. In the States now, what we’re trying to do is get at least some civil rights for gays,” Freeman said. “Think about it, it’s criminal. All this kind of suppression of people’s rights in this day and age — it’s criminal.”

But Freeman is optimistic. “We will prevail. Human condition is predicated primarily on good.”

Freeman also spoke of his film career — singling out 1989’s Glory as a highlight because it educated audiences — and recalled meeting Nelson Mandela, whom he portrayed in 2009’s Invictus.

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“Try to imagine what you would say to God if you happened to be in the same room that he walked into,” Freeman explained, adding that he said to the former South African president: “I’m very pleased to meet you, sir.”

Freeman admitted there’s one career achievement left on his bucket list.

“I want to win an Academy Award for Best Picture [for a movie] that I produced,” he said.

Has Freeman, who produced several films including Invictus and 2001’s Along Came a Spider, found a project that could be a contender for the top Oscar?

“I have picked a number of stories,” he said, “and I’ve got my fingers crossed for the main one.”