Paper Napkin Interview: Dishing with Morgan Freeman

We talk juke joints, collard greens, and life in the Mississippi Delta with legendary actor Morgan Freeman at his Ground Zero Blue Club.
Interview by Caroline McKenzie

What memory from your Mississippi childhood do you cherish most?
Looking back from where I am now, what stands out is being a little boy, around 5 years old. It was a time of freedom. I’d wake up in the morning and didn’t have to ask if I could go play. I’d just leave. Later I’d hear my mom calling me from the other end of the neighborhood. Ju-nior!

Why live in Mississippi today?
I’ve lived in New York and LA, San Francisco and Chicago. I got tired of the crowds and feeling as though I lived in a dungeon, no matter what floor I was on. I started coming home to Mississippi in the mid’ 80s and I realized that, gosh, I’m not really ever relaxed until I get here.

How would you describe The Delta to an outsider? 
Flat. What distinguishes The Delta, I think, is that it has no distinguishing marks.

Did Mississippi shape the blues?
Absolutely. We’re talking about hard work and a really hot sun. What can you do when you’re up against an almost untenable situation? Sing. There is a rhythm to chopping and picking cotton. Those folks used to get into a rhythm and sing the blues.

You opened Ground Zero in 2001. Who is your favorite act?
My alltime favorite is one we get often: Super Chikan. He puts on a party and that’s what you want in a juke joint.

What’s your dream blues lineup?
Boy. I’d get Ray Charles, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy. And that would probably take up a night.

Are you a musician?
No, not really. I played alto saxophone in high school in nearby Greenwood. And in the 60s I picked up the acoustic guitar, like everybody else who wanted to pull girls.

What’s your favorite Southern dish?
Collard greens—or turnip greens. Cornbread and fried chicken.

Is there a Southern leading lady that you have a soft spot for?
Ashley Judd. She’s gorgeous, extremely smart, a loving person, and an outstanding actress. And she loves me.

What do you consider the top set-in-the-South film?
Driving Miss Daisy, of course. It was an untold story that’s prevalent in the South—an old white woman and an old black man who weren’t whole until they were together. The movies wouldn’t bill it as a love story. They called it a comedy.

How do you take your barbecue?
Through the mouth. Goodness, I like dry rub. I like red sauce. I like baby back ribs—ones with lots of meat, not where you’ve just got a little thin nothing.

Last thing you scribbled on a napkin?
Either my phone number. Or [winks] someone else’s.