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Morgan J. Freeman picked 'Desert' over Hollywood


June 25, 1999
Web posted at: 1:16 p.m. EDT (1716 GMT)

By Jamie Allen
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Yes, Morgan J. Freeman often hears wisecracks about his name:

"You were awesome in 'Shawshank Redemption,' man."

"You don't look anything like I thought you would."

"What was it like to work with Gwyneth in 'Seven'?"

When you share your name with an Oscar-nominated actor, you expect remarks like this. Especially when you've chosen to make a living in show business.

But Morgan J. Freeman (the "J" stands for Jerome) is making a name for himself these days as an acclaimed independent film writer-director. His first offering, "Hurricane Streets," won the director's award, audience award, and cinematography award at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.

His follow-up, "Desert Blue," is getting a staggered release nationwide this summer -- several markets at a time -- under Samuel Goldwyn Films' distribution.

And for the first time in his life, Freeman is engaging in a publicity tour for his film. It's something he demanded after seeing "Hurricane Streets" rely on word-of-mouth to promote itself.

"I watched what other (independent movies did), and everybody I talked to on those, they're like, 'How was your publicity tour?'" Freeman recalls. "I was like, 'Huh?'

"In bringing 'Desert Blue' to the marketplace, that's what I was looking for."

Far from high-concept Hollywood

A quirky tale set in a California desert town that's home to the world's largest ice cream cone, "Desert Blue" is far from high-concept Hollywood. The plot, for instance, can't be summed up in a pitch line.

It mixes several stories to focus on a group of young people played by up-and-comers Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci, Brendan Sexton III, Casey Affleck and Sara Gilbert.

At the heart of the film, the main character, Blue, played by Sexton, falls for TV starlet Skye, played by Hudson. She's quarantined the town after a bizarre accident. Skye eventually loses her Hollywood gloss and falls for Blue's charms.

Her character, more than any other in the film, is one Freeman says he relates to.

He says that after "Hurricane Streets" became a hit, he received numerous offers to enter the Hollywood system. But every offer included some kind of sell-out that he, ultimately, isn't willing to make.

"There's the devastating effects that the Hollywood system can have on you and your soul and your friends," says Freeman.

'The good things and bad things'


Morgan J. Freeman on...

...Kate Hudson
[420k WAV] or [2.5Mb QuickTime] movies to young audiences
[435k WAV] or [2.5Mb QuickTime]

...the plot of "Desert Blue"
[340k WAV] or [2Mb QuickTime]

Freeman says he needs the freedom to pick his cast, to make the film the way he wants to make it. And he won't sacrifice that for anything.

"I want to sit back and be able to take credit for the good things and bad things, regardless," he says. "I want to be able to say, 'Yes, I did this, that's why my name's on it.' And that's what it boiled down to."

"Desert Blue" is a result of that commitment. Freeman even got to continue working with friends like Ricci and best buddy Sexton, who often stays at his apartment in New York.

Freeman, 29, says his cast helps connect his ideas to the young audiences filling theaters today.

"My friend Brendan and Christina and some of the other cast members, I write their characters for things they've talked about and things they're interested in," says Freeman. "If I stay true to the people I put in the film, I think they connect to their generation."

'The most coveted part in Hollywood'

Freeman says he also enjoyed the presence of Kate Hudson, who when "Desert Blue" was filming had starred in only one other film ("Ricochet River," 1998). The 20-year-old daughter of Goldie Hawn, Hudson has gone on to play roles in movies like "200 Cigarettes," and she has the lead in the untitled Cameron Crowe project currently in production.

"That was the most coveted part in Hollywood for these actresses in that age group and she got it," says Freeman. "She is well on her way."

Freeman's on his way, too. He admits that although he enjoys the freedom of this independent existence, he has his eyes on Hollywood, if the price is right.

"I'm going to do everything I can to go (to Hollywood) on my own terms and if that means making my own movies outside as long as it takes, then as long as I can do that I'll keep doing it," Freeman says.

And he'll continue to play the name game. He even played it with Morgan Freeman when the two met at a film festival.

"He said, 'Here I am. How am I doing? I was wondering what was going on with me. I was wondering where I was. How am I doing?" Freeman recalls.

Freeman didn't answer Freeman. But he seems to be doing just fine.

Vietnam War films win Sundance top honors
February 1, 1999
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April 23, 1999
'Slam' gets Sundance Festival's top dramatic prize
January 25, 1998

'Desert Blue'
Sundance 1998
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