Morgan Freeman's Favorite Role Is One He Never Wanted To Repeat

When I majored in journalism at Western Michigan University, my professors routinely showed movies in the classroom to complement their lesson plans. In my investigative journalism course, for example, one professor had us watch the 2015 biographical film "Spotlight," which is based on The Boston Globe's uncovering of a child sex abuse scandal committed by local Roman Catholic priests. When it came to lessons on the career-killers plagiarism and fabrication of sources, another professor showed the 2003 biographical drama "Shattered Glass," which recounts disgraced journalist Stephen Glass' professional demise after he fabricates stories for "The New Republic" magazine. The movie was a box office bomb, but if you have any interest in journalism or are a Hayden Christensen fan — he stars as Glass — I urge you to give it a watch.

Some years later, I came across another movie that tackles fabrication in journalism: 1987's "Street Smart," starring Christopher Reeve. Initially, I wondered why my professors never introduced the pertinent film to the class, but I quickly jumped to two explanations. One, the plot is totally fiction and therefore doesn't carry the same authenticity needed to spook aspiring journalists to never turn to the dark side, and two, the central antagonist is a ruthless, backhand slapping, "B**** better have my money" pimp. Can you guess who plays the pimp? If you used the context clues from the headline, you've probably correctly guessed Morgan Freeman. And it turns out, to my surprise, that role is Freeman's favorite.

A pimp named Freeman

"Street Smart" follows Johnathan Fisher (Christopher Reeve), a New York magazine reporter who fabricates a profile on the life of a fictional Times Square pimp. Even though the story leads to burgeoning career opportunities for Fisher as he becomes the toast of the town, it also entangles him in a murder case involving real pimp Leo "Fast Black" Smalls (Freeman). Honestly, as I watched the movie, I was so busy laughing in tears at the mere image of Freeman as a pimp I couldn't objectively critique the film. I laughed even more when I saw him gush as he revealed in a 2014 interview with HitFix that he maxed out the film's costume budget on his expensive pimp getup. He fondly recalled:

"This was in the late '80s, and the costume designer said, 'So, how do you see yourself?' And at the time, pimps were all wearing — in movies — wearing platform shoes, crushed velvet this, that — robes and this kind of stuff, and I said, 'None of that.' And she said 'Armani?' and I said, 'Yes.' So, she actually wiped out her costume budget by buying me Armani."

While watching Freeman in "Street Smart" is like finding an old, cringe-inducing VHS of my loving and caring grandfather acting a fool in his heyday, the movie earned the legendary actor his first of five Oscar nominations. Despite the film being a box office bomb (Christopher Reeve blames bad promotion), Freeman told HitFix that playing Fast Black is his favorite role, and per his 2011 interview with the American Film Institute, he considers the movie as his breakout performance.

Morgan Freeman didn't want to become typecast

During the HitFix interview, Morgan Freeman explained what made portraying Fast Black unique from all his other roles. "I went as about as far away from me as I could get in terms of acting," he said. "Everything else — you know — you pull something out of you. Not that I wasn't pulling stuff out of me in terms of my action with the ladies, but to me, it was more alien to who I really am."

Freeman closed out the '80s by playing a high-school principal in "Lean on Me," a soldier in "Glory," and a chauffeur in "Driving Miss Daisy," for which he earned his second Oscar nomination. None of these roles has zip in common with a vicious pimp. In a 2000 interview with The Flashback Flies, Morgan Freeman explained why, despite Fast Black being his favorite role, he never played a villainous pimp again. "I refused," he said. "As soon as you come out with something like that you get a lot of offers to play that same role again in other films. I didn't wanna be ... If I'm good at something I don't want to do that again, I want to do something else."

Even though "Street Smart" allowed Freeman to demonstrate his range, I'm glad he didn't allow himself to become typecast — otherwise, we might have missed out on all the classic Morgan Freeman roles