Actors Who Were in the Military

November 12, 2019

Many famous actors served in the military before transitioning to stage and screen. What did they take from the military experience and how did it inform their acting? Here are four actors whose military paths differed greatly, but still their fates were bound for Hollywood. 

Adam Driver

Before starring in Marriage Story, The Report and the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Adam Driver was in the Marines for just under three years. He joined  the United States Marine Corps as a patriotic act soon after the September 11 attacks soon after high school. “In the military, I felt this sense of community,” he said during a Ted Talk. But he was devastated when he  dislocated his sternum while mountain biking because it meant he had to leave his fellow soldiers who had become his closest friends. Discharged with the rank of Lance Corporal, he found himself struggling to adjust back into the civilian world. “How often in the civilian world are you put in a life-or-death situation with your closest friends, and they constantly demonstrate that they’re not going to abandon you?” Soon enough, he was accepted into Juilliard where his eyes were opened to the wealth of “playwrights and characters and plays that had nothing to do with the military but were somehow describing my military experience in a way that before, to me, was indescribable.” Initially perceived as volatile by his classmates, he said, “I felt myself feeling less aggressive as I was able to put words to feelings for the first time.” In turn, Driver co-founded Arts in the Armed Forces, a nonprofit that brings high-quality theater arts productions to active-duty service members, veterans, military support staff and their families free of charge.

Morgan Freeman

Even though he was offered a scholarship for drama from Jackson State University, Morgan Freeman opted instead to join the U.S. Air Force in 1955. Indeed, the idea of flying was a tremendous draw for the young man. At first he felt right at home in the military, but when he eventually was able to train as a fighter pilot, the reality of the job started to take its toll. He felt like he was “sitting in the nose of a bomb,” he told AARP magazine. “I had this very clear epiphany … You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this,” Freeman said. He knew for certain he no longer wanted to be in the military, so he left the Air Force after three-and-a-half years. Subsequently, he worked in a long string of temp jobs before he dedicated himself to acting. Over the course of two decades, he moved from theater work to being cast in the popular soap opera Another World as well as the kids’ television show The Electric Company.  Now Freeman is widely celebrated for his performances in films including The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, Driving Miss Daisy, Seven, and Unforgiven.


Ice-T was struggling to support his girlfriend and newborn daughter. He wasn’t able to make ends meet by selling cannabis and stealing car stereos, and he was concerned his lifestyle was going to land him in jail. So for the sake of financial stability, he  joined the Army in 1977 where he ended up serving two years in the 25th Infantry Division. While deployed in Hawaii, Ice-T served as a squad leader. His memoir recounts how he purchased stereo equipment, a mixer, turntables, and large speakers at this point of time. Inspired by hip hop music, he worked on his rap skills and mixing beats. Ice-T went on to receive an honorable discharge because he was a single father, but back in civilian life, he went through a period of robbing banks before his career as a rap artist took off. And with all of his talent, fame, and personality, Ice-T fit right into Hollywood. In fact, since 2000, he’s portrayed, ironically, a law-enforcement officer: NYPD Detective Odafin Tutuola on the NBC police drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood was drafted during the Korean War. He didn’t want to enlist, but had no choice. In the Army, Eastwood served as a swim instructor, and his skills in the water turned out to be a true asset one day when the Navy torpedo bomber plane he was riding on ran out of gas. Indeed, he needed to swim three miles to reach the California shore. In 1953, Eastwood was discharged and he attended Los Angeles City College were he studied drama thanks to the GI Bill. He gradually became famous for his roles in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Bridges of Madison County as well as Escape from Alcatraz in which his character had to swim the trecherous Pacific Ocean to gain his freedom. Eastwood eventually became an Academy Award-winning director for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.

Morgan Freeman on Working While Aspiring to Be an Actor

November 20, 2017

“I was always ambitious. I always wanted to be more than I was…. I always wanted to be a movie actor.” –Morgan Freeman

Beloved actor, producer, and narrator Morgan Freeman is celebrated for his prominent career along with his distinctive, rich, warm, authoritative voice. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor with his performance in Million Dollar Baby and has received four other Oscar nominations for his work in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, and Invictus. Now 80 years old, the star’s prolific career seems to have enfolded effortlessly over the years–much like his easygoing personal style. But truth be told, his acting career might very well have fallen by the wayside if it were not for his determination and courage. In fact, he struggled for years, taking on various jobs to pay the bills as he aspired to become a working actor.

Born the youngest of five children in Memphis, Tennessee, Morgan’s family scraped to get by financially. But after performing in the lead role in some school plays, it was clear he exhibited exceptional talent–even winning a statewide drama competition at the age of 12. But he really aspired to fly airplanes after graduating, so he joined the Air Force and indeed rose to the rank of Airman 1st Class. But Freeman changed his mind and left the Air Force when the idea of killing others became too real.

Looking to make ends meet as a young man, Freeman said:

“To collect unemployment, you have to go out and hunt for employment. And you have a code, and mine was a clerk typist, so you go out and look for work as a clek typist. And one day, I just can’t keep being forced to be a clerk typist. So I went to the employment office and I asked to see the supervisor. And I was led into this office, and this pretty little lady, red head whose name was Mrs. Lipton [asked], ‘What can I do for you?’ And I said, ‘You’re forcing me to be something I’m not. I have to go out and work as a clerk typist. I’m not a clerk typist; I’m an actor. So I can’t just keep doing it this way.’ She took this thing and stamped my employment book, and said, ‘You got six months. Go be an actor.'”

Indeed, Freeman believed he wasn’t good at anything other than acting.

When he started getting work as an off-Broadway actor in 1967, he earned $70 per week and never returned to typing again. But, the actor says, “I had some real lean times in-between. But I didn’t have to go to work for anybody else. I didn’t have to wash dishes, I didn’t have to wait tables, I didn’t have to drive a cab or wash cars. I deliberately left myself nothing to fall back on. If you’ve got a cushion, where you land, you stay. You can’t climb a mountain with a net. If you’ve got the net, you’ll let go.”

Freeman started to become more well known from 1971 through 1976, when he was cast on the PBS children’s show called The Electric Company. The job helped him pay the bills, however, Freeman doesn’t look back fondly at those years employed with the show. “It was my idea to just do ‘The Electric Company’ for a couple of years and go on. But you get trapped by that money thing. It’s golden handcuffs. It gets a lot of people including soap opera actors and commerical actors. Then, they don’t want to see you in serious work. That was going to be me, having people come up to me saying, ‘My kids love you!’ I was there three years too long.”

After several more years of building his career from the ground up, he was cast in the film Street Smart in 1987. In fact, Freeman earned an Oscar nomination, and became a sought-after, respected actor from there on out.

For people who aspire to be working actors, he advises, “Act. Work. Someone asked me once … ‘What would you do if you weren’t an actor? If you didn’t make it as an actor, what would you do?’ I have no idea. I would act somewhere. Maybe I’d be driving a cab, working in someone’s yard, whatever I’m doing, I’m going to belong to somebody’s little theater group. I will act. ‘Cause I’ll die if I don’t.”

Freeman is now ranked fourth highest box-office star with over $4.3 billion total box-office gross. Now the star says, “I don’t have to work. I could stop and never have to worry about paying rent. I’m working for the joy of doing it.”