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Morgan Freeman’s look of terror was real in this Eastwood classic

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood have teamed up now on many occasions, but for one of his best Westerns, Morgan's look of terror in a brutal scene was genuine.

Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in Unforgiven

Morgan Freeman‘s presence enhances any movie, and he’s starred in some absolute classics. From Se7en to The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman has been helping to define the best movies of the past few decades. Another of his greatest is his 1992 Clint Eastwood Western movie, Unforgiven.

Freeman stars as Ned Logan, alongside Eastwood and Gene Hackman. While each of the three deliver brilliant performances, Hackman received particular acclaim and even won the year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the despicable Sheriff Little Bill Daggett.

As well as impressing audiences and Oscar voters Hackman also stunned Freeman himself, leading to one of the most memorable moments in the film. In a moment of sadistic brutality, Hackman’s character whips Freeman’s Ned Logan while he’s tied to bars in an attempt to get Ned to change his story.

Hackman’s Sheriff whispers to Ned, “I’m going to hurt you, and not gentle like before. But bad.” The subsequent look on Freeman’s face is one of genuine terror, and that’s because it was real: Hackman’s performance was so good, that Freeman really believed the truth of what he was saying.

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Speaking to EW, Freeman explained what happened. “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.”

It’s an anecdote which shows how one actor’s performance can enhance another’s. Hackman was so good, and so believable, that Freeman’s reaction was equally believable and genuine. Freeman then went on to lament Hackman’s retirement, explaining how much he enjoyed working with him, despite everything. “He’s retired! Silly man. You take talent like that away from me! I’m not happy about that.”

For more on Morgan Freeman you can read about his love for one Western in particular, and why Clint Eastwood is his favorite director. Or, you can check out our selection of the best Westerns ever made, and our guide to all the new movies coming in 2024.