The Unforgiven Scene That Truly Terrified Morgan Freeman

"Unforgiven" came at a time in Morgan Freeman's career when the actor was perched halfway between "Glory" and "Seven." The early-to-mid-1990s were peak Freeman, but in "Unforgiven," the "Shawshank Redemption" star took on more of a supporting role as Ned Logan, a former outlaw who gets roped into collecting a bounty from a group of sex workers with his friend, William Munny, played by director Clint Eastwood.

Gene Hackman also stars as the ruthless sheriff, Little Bill Daggett. Though Freeman reportedly loved working with Hackman and was sad to see him retire from acting circa 2004, he shared some of the terror that his character, Ned, felt during one of their scenes together in "Unforgiven."

The scene in question is a tough watch: it involves Bill whipping Ned, using torture to interrogate him. Freeman related his experience of filming that scene to Entertainment Weekly at a Sirius XM Town Hall in 2015. He said:

"The essence to me of acting is listening. Gene leaned into my ear and he said, and I'll paraphrase this, 'I'm gonna ask you some questions, and if your answers don't match up with the answers that I've already got, I'm gonna hurt you.' I believed him."

'I'm gonna hurt you, and not gentle like before'

You can see Freeman's scene with Hackman on YouTube, but because of the violent subject matter, the video is age-restricted. "Unforgiven" came out in 1992, and three decades later, it's even harder to stomach seeing a white sheriff sadistically whip a Black man, thanks to all the viral videos of police brutality that have surfaced in the real world. The full exact quote from Bill that Freeman was paraphrasing is:

"Now, Ned. Them whores gonna tell different lies than you. And when their lies ain't the same as your lies, well, I ain't gonna hurt no woman. I'm gonna hurt you, and not gentle like before. But bad."

When he says that, Ned slowly turns his head to look at him without saying anything, and it's a horrifying moment because he and the audience are left to understand that the whipping he has already undergone is Bill's twisted idea of hurting him "gentle." One can only imagine how much worse the sheriff's idea of hurting him "bad" is. 

The scene called for Freeman to be shirtless and tied to the bars of a jail cell, and given how physically vulnerable he was, it's not surprising that he felt some real fear at Hackman's chilling delivery of his lines. The year that Hackman retired, Freeman went on to appear in another Eastwood movie, "Million Dollar Baby," which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.