Actor Morgan Freeman is being accused of sexually harassing and behaving inappropriately toward a number of women he has worked with, from production assistants on movies in which he has starred to employees of his production company to journalists covering the release of his films.
Eight people told CNN that they directly experienced harassment or inappropriate behavior by Freeman, and eight others said they had witnessed such conduct by the Oscar-winning actor. NPR has not independently confirmed the allegations.
One of those journalists who says Freeman made sexual comments and stared at her intently was CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas, one of the authors of the report on Freeman's conduct that CNN published Thursday. She said it was her experience with Freeman that drove her to find out whether he had harassed other women.
Melas was six months' pregnant when she met Freeman, 80, to interview him about the release of his movie Going In Style last year.
"Right when I walked into the room, he began making sexually suggestive comments to me," she said in an interview with HLN. "As an entertainment reporter for over a decade, it was unlike anything I truly have ever experienced. One of those comments was caught on tape. In this comment that's on tape, he says to me, 'Boy, do I wish I was there,' while looking me up and down."
Melas says Freeman's co-stars, Alan Arkin and Michael Caine, were seated on either side of Freeman and looked at him when he made the comment. She says he made other comments to her that weren't on tape, including, "You are ripe."
Many of the complaints about Freeman in the CNN report describe his conduct at Revelations Entertainment, the production company he co-founded with producer Lori McCreary. The company has made movies including Invictus and Along Came A Spider and the CBS political drama Madam Secretary.
One former male employee at Revelations said that Freeman acted like a "creepy uncle" at the office and that he witnessed the actor massaging the shoulder of a clearly uncomfortable intern. "The intern got visibly red and wiggled out of his grasp, it was awkward," he said.
A former production assistant on Going In Style told CNN that she experienced unwanted touching and comments about her clothes and body almost every day from Freeman — an experience she says frequently left in her tears and led her to leave the movie business.
She said Freeman "kept trying to lift up my skirt and asking if I was wearing underwear."
In a statement to NPR, Freeman apologized to anyone he made uncomfortable.
"Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent."
Freeman is one of America's best-known actors, starring in 1989's Driving Miss Daisy and 1994's The Shawshank Redemption. He is known for his deep voice and often plays characters of gravitas and great moral rectitude. He portrayed Nelson Mandela in Invictus, the president of the United States in Deep Impact and God in Bruce Almighty.
The CNN report also includes allegations involving McCreary, Freeman's business partner — sometimes as victim, sometimes as perpetrator. Speaking at a conference in 2016, Freeman said of McCreary, "She wants to be thought of as serious. But you can't get away from the short dresses."
The moderator asked Freeman whether his comments could be seen as sexist and misogynistic. "Sexist? Yeah," Freeman replied, "but I'm not misogynistic."
But former employees at Revelations told CNN that McCreary was part of the problem, making comments such as, "she'll never be able to do a good job, she has a family" and mocking women who left work early for family commitments.
Employees reportedly formed a "survivors club" to commiserate about what they experienced at Revelations.
The actor's power and stature allowed him to behave inappropriately out in the open and without consequence, according to an unnamed production assistant who worked with Freeman on The Dark Knight.
"Morgan did things in a way that an older more established person can get away with because they have that power," the woman told CNN.
"They can't be replaced, but you can be replaced very easily, that's just kind of the dynamic on set. PAs can be replaced, grips can be replaced, electricians can be replaced, but the actors — once they're in, they're in. ... [I]f you report somebody like Morgan Freeman that the movie would lose a lot of money by replacing them or getting them in trouble, then you're the troublemaker and you'll get fired because you're just a PA."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is the latest in a string of influential Hollywood figures to be accused of sexual harassment. Freeman is best known for his roles in films like "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Million Dollar Baby." CNN is reporting that eight people have accused Freeman of harassment and inappropriate behavior.
NPR's Laurel Wamsley has been following the developments for us. She's here in the studio. And, Laurel, first just summarize the allegations against Mr. Freeman.
LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: All right, so there's eight people who allege either inappropriate behavior or sexual harassment from him. And what they describe is basically a pattern of behavior of sexual comments, awkward staring, looking at women up and down and making comments about their bodies. And he apparently did this both with staff at his production company - people who worked on the sets of the movies he was in - as well as journalists covering those movies.
CORNISH: We mentioned CNN has this story. And in fact, a CNN reporter herself says she was harassed by Freeman. Can you tell us about that?
WAMSLEY: Right. So the reporter, Chloe Melas, was covering the release of his film "Going In Style" last year when she had what she describes as a very awkward interaction with him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHLOE MELAS: Right when I walked into the room, he began making sexually suggestive comments to me. Now, as an entertainment reporter for over a decade, it was unlike anything I truly have ever experienced. In this comment that's on tape, he says to me, boy, do I wish I was there while looking me up and down.
WAMSLEY: And in the video of that interaction, you can see he's flanked by his costars Michael Caine and Alan Arkin, and they actually look over at him when he makes those comments. And she said it was this experience - she was six months pregnant at the time that he was making these comments towards her - that she decided to look to see if other women had had the same sort of experience with Freeman.
CORNISH: And reportedly she did, right? What did they tell her about their interactions with Morgan Freeman?
WAMSLEY: Right. So there are a number of incidents recounted in the CNN story, and they range from one production assistant who says he repeatedly raised her skirt and asked if she was wearing underwear until a colleague, Alan Arkin, finally asked Freeman to stop it.
A senior member of the production staff on another movie reported that she and other women she worked with stopped wearing fitting clothing because every time Freeman walked by, he would make these sorts of comments. It was - it's a lot of things like that - just a lot of comments and making people feel uncomfortable.
CORNISH: CNN also reported that they spoke to people who observed harassment by Freeman. What is behind that?
WAMSLEY: That's right. So there's another eight people who say they observed this sort of behavior from him, and this includes men who worked at his production company, Revelations Entertainment, as well. And they describe behavior like seeing Freeman massaging the shoulders of an intern and making these comments.
And colleagues described a strange happening at Morgan Freeman's birthday party for his 79th birthday where he told everyone - all the employees to line up and introduce themselves. And then in front of each of the women, he would stand in front of them about an inch away from their faces and just stare at them, which he did not do to the men.
CORNISH: How has Morgan Freeman responded so far?
WAMSLEY: Well, in a statement to NPR, this is what he said. Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows that I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected. That was never my intent.
So it's not clear whether he is denying the allegations or just saying he was misunderstood.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Laurel Wamsley. Thanks so much.
WAMSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.