Morgan Freeman first stood on a stage when he was 8 years old, playing Little Boy Blue in a pageant. That's when he knew he wanted to be an actor.
More than seven decades later, the now 80-year-old Freeman accepted a lifetime achievement award Sunday from the Screen Actors Guild for the much larger roles he's played in his career, including his Oscar-winning performance in "Million Dollar Baby."
Freeman was nominated for Oscars four other times, including for his work in "Shawshank Redemption" and "Driving Miss Daisy."
Actress Rita Moreno, who presented Freeman with the honor, recalled another lesser-known role Freeman played, acting with her in 1971 on the children's show "The Electric Company." She had the audience laughing about a role that would surprise some for the smooth-as-silk, dulcet-voiced Freeman.
"Morgan Freeman, Mr. Elegant. Morgan Freeman, Mr. Debonair, Morgan Freeman playing Dracula. With fangs coming out of his mouth," Moreno said to laughs before impersonating the creepy voice Freeman would use. "And he talked like this: 'Hello, little girl. I come all the way from Transylvania to scare the daylights out of you."
On a more serious note, Moreno said Freeman was more than just an actor, narrator, producer and humanitarian. "This man is a national treasure," she said.
Freeman's acceptance speech was short. Donning a black baseball cap, Freeman said he wouldn't try to thank everyone he should because he couldn't remember all their names.
"This is beyond honor," Freeman said. "This is a place in history."
Backstage, Freeman recalled a tough time in his career, in the early 1980s.
"I thought my 15 minutes were up ... I needed to get a job," he said. "By the time I got down to the moment when you make that decision — give it up — something happened. Paul Newman came along."
Freeman was in Newman's 1984 film "Harry & Son," a gig that turned Freeman's career around.
It was almost too late.
Earlier Sunday, Freeman said that if acting hadn't worked out for him, he once thought of a career in driving.
"I used to imagine myself being a chauffeur because there came a time I thought it was all over," Freeman said in a Facebook video taken from inside his car ride to the show. "I thought my career had reached its pinnacle, its peak."
It was seven years later that he did become a chauffeur of sorts — driver Hoke Colburn in "Driving Miss Daisy."
About his award for lifetime achievement, Freeman wondered back stage if there was a hidden message in it.
"The inference might be, 'Get off the stage, you're done,'" he said as reporters laughed. "It might, you don't know. My hope is that's not the case, that they're saying, 'Congratulations so far.'"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.