Morgan Freeman could be dubbed the Box Office Bodhisattva. Freeman's characters are atypically enlightened people who help the other characters in the film find the way to their own realization, much like the Buddhist notion of the bodhisattva, a person who could enter Nirvana but chooses to remain with humans, in the world of suffering, in order to help others on to enlightenment.
In fact, it is suffering that imbues Freeman's characters, notably in "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Seven," with such wisdom and compassion--compassion which is given selflessly to others. In movies, such as "Glory" and "Lean on Me," he plays the mentor to young people, leading them to new heights and aspirations.
In "The Shawshank Redemption" he is the older, wiser, experienced lifer who befriends a new middle-aged convict, helping him survive, thus allowing him to focus on transcending the prison experience. In both "Million Dollar Baby" and an "Unfinished Life," Freeman plays the physically wounded, but wise, confidant to the crotchety, older protagonists, helping them find meaning and resolution.
Certainly, Freeman has played his share of what could be conventionally called "The Bad Guy," garnering his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal, in "Street Smart," of an explosively violent, yet eerily charismatic, pimp. But he is best known as Hollywood's "go to" guy for the sidekick with a conscience, the wise mentor and, even for portrayals of religious historical figures, including Azeem the Moor in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and Malcolm X in 1981's "Death of a Prophet." Freeman also will portray Nelson Mandela in the upcoming "Long Walk to Freedom." In 2003, he tackled the biggest religious figure of them all, God, in "Bruce Almighty" and will do so again in its forthcoming sequel "Evan Almighty."
Though primarily known as an actor, Freeman directed the 1993 film "Bopha!" which tells the story of a black police officer in South Africa whose son gets involved in the anti-Apartheid movement. Freeman also is the co-founder of a production company called Revelations Entertainment, whose mission is "to enlighten, express heart and glorify the human experience." Something this actor's performances do on a regular basis.
--By Ellen Leventry