Hollywood hails Mandela, after long walk to big screen

Mandela's death was announced by mere chance during the London premiere of the movie version of his 1994 Autobiography

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Hollywood has a long history with Nelson Mandela, whose life story was seemingly made for the big screen -- and stars and filmmakers have lined up to pay tribute to him.

By mere chance, his death on Thursday was announced during the London premiere of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” the movie version of his 1994 autobiography that took 19 years to come to fruition.

Morgan Freeman, who played the South African leader in Clint Eastwood's Oscar-nominated 2009 film “Invictus,” called Mandela “one of the true giants of the past century.

“Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve -- a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind,” he said.

Freeman was better placed than many to comment on Mandela. In a 1994 press conference to promote his autobiography, the then South African president was asked who he would choose to play himself in a movie version of the book.

Mandela chose Freeman, and for a long time the actor -- who has also played God and the president of the United States -- was linked to the planned movie, and given regular access to the anti-apartheid icon.

But the project got bogged down, and Freeman eventually dropped out, before Eastwood asked him to help make “Invictus,” which focused on Mandela's campaign to unite his apartheid-torn country behind the national team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” was eventually brought to the screen by South African producer Anant Singh, in collaboration with the highly-rated British actor Idris Elba and director Justin Chadwick, also a Briton.

“It's been well worth the wait,” Singh said in a recent media interview to promote the film, which is currently being screened in select US theaters and will be released nationwide later this month.

“It's made the film better that we have gone through as much as we have,” he added.

Harvey Weinstein, the legendary Hollywood producer behind the new movie, paid tribute to Mandela after his death at the age of 95.

“One of the privileges of making movies is having the opportunity to immortalize those who have made a profound impact on humanity,” he said.

“We count ourselves unspeakably fortunate to have been immersed in Nelson Mandela's story and legacy. It's been an honor to have been granted such proximity to a man who will go down as one of history's greatest freedom fighters and advocates for justice.”

Mandela's story has spawned numerous other films and documentaries, including “Winnie Mandela,” starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard, released in September.

“Goodbye Bafana” (2007), directed by Denmark's Bille August and starring English actor Joseph Fiennes, told the story of the white jailor who guarded Mandela for 20 years on Robben Island.

He was also portrayed on the small screen long before “Invictus” and “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Danny Glover played him in the 1987 TV movie “Mandela,” while Sidney Poitier took the role in 1997 in “Mandela and de Klerk.”

Filmmakers and stars with South African links or who have explored related themes joined in tributes to Mandela after his death.

“My heart is broken... My hero is gone,” said Lee Daniels, the African American director who made “The Butler” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, tipped for an Oscar for her role as the wife of a black White House butler who served eight US presidents.

African American director Spike Lee, who gave Mandela a cameo role in his 1992 movie “Malcolm X,” posted an old picture of himself with the South African legend.

“President Nelson Mandela Born July 18th, 1918-December 5th In The Year Of Our Lawd 2013,” he wrote.

And South African-born Oscar winner Charlize Theron wrote: “Rest in Peace Madiba. You will be missed, but your impact on this world will live forever. I am saddened to the depths of my soul.”

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