ONE night during the rehearsal period for a revival of "The Country Girl," the Clifford Odets show-business drama that has lured him back to the stage, Morgan Freeman was in Sardi's, the famous Broadway bistro, throwing a mock fit. It was just past 8, and the theatergoing dinner crowd had departed, leaving the restaurant empty. Mr. Freeman had been asked whether he'd like to sit for a caricature to adorn the restaurant wall and become one of the hundreds of luminaries from theater history to be so immortalized.
"What do you mean, do I want one?" he said, his voice, a familiar resonant growl with a hint of his Mississippi roots, rising in indignation. "I thought it was automatic. I worked at the St. James Theater right here on this block. I've been all over Broadway. If my picture's not here already, I don't want it here."
His wink was roguish and his smile wicked. It was a piquant bit of self-skewering, a celebrity sending up a celebrity's sense of entitlement. It's hard to spend any time at all with Mr. Freeman without becoming aware of his self-awareness. An actor who came to opportunity late (he got his first significant stage role at 30) and stardom in middle age (he was 50 before he made it regularly to the movies), he is, at 70, a man who knows clearly who he is. Though to judge by the innumerable screen roles to which he has brought that same quality -- a precise self-perception that is grand only in its modesty -- he came by the knowledge naturally, or at least acquired it long ago.