FISHBURNE, Laurence (Larry)
Nationality: American. Born: Laurence Fishburne III in Augusta, Georgia, 30 July 1961. Family: Married Hajna Moss, 1985 (divorced); children: Langston Issa, Montana Isis. Career: Acted on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live while not yet in his teens, early 1970s; made screen debut in Cornbread, Earl and Me , 1975; lied about his age in order to be cast in Apocalypse Now , 1976; played the role of Cowboy Curtis on the TV show Pee-wee's Playhouse , and made guest appearances on the TV series M*A*S*H , Trapper John, M.D. , and others, 1980s; altered his billing from Larry to Laurence, and appeared in the TV mini-series The Wild West, 1993. Awards: Tony Award for Two Trains Running , 1992; Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Emmy Award, for Tribeca , 1993; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Image Award, for Higher Learning, 1995; Outstanding Made for Television Movie Emmy Award (earned as co-executive producer), Outstanding Lead Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Drama Special Image Award, for Miss Evers' Boys , 1997. Agent: Paradigm Talent Agency, 10100 Santa Monica Boulevard, 25th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
(as Laurence Fishburne III)
Cornbread, Earl and Me (Manduke) (as Wilford Robinson)
Fast Break (Smight) (as street kid)
(as Larry Fishburne)
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Clean)
A Rumor of War (Heffron—for TV) (as Lightbulb); Willie and Phil (Mazursky) (as Wilson)
Death Wish II (Winner) (as Cutter)
I Take These Men (Peerce—for TV) (as Hank Johnson); Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Midget); For Us, the Living (Schultz—for TV)
The Cotton Club (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Bumpy Rhodes)
The Color Purple (Spielberg) (as Swain)
Quicksilver (Donnelly) (as Voodoo); Band of the Hand (Glaser) (as Cream)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell) (as Max); Gardens of Stone (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Cpl. Flanagan)
School Daze (Spike Lee) (as Vaughn "Dap" Dunlap); Red Heat (Walter Hill) (as Lt. Stobbs); Cherry 2000 (De Jarnatt) (as Glu Glu Lawyer)
Cadence ( Stockade ) (Sheen) (as Stokes)
King of New York (Ferrara) (as Jimmy Jump); Decoration Day (Markowitz—for TV) (as Michael Waring)
Class Action (Apted) (as Nick Holbrook); Boyz N the Hood (Singleton) (as Furious Styles); Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (Bahr and Hickenlooper—doc) (appearance)
Deep Cover (Duke) (as Russell Stevens Jr./John Q. Hull)
(as Laurence Fishburne)
What's Love Got to Do with It? (Gibson) (as Ike Turner); Searching for Bobby Fischer ( Innocent Moves ) (Zaillian) (as Vinnie)
Higher Learning (Singleton) (as Professor Maurice Phipps); Bad Company (Harris) (as Nelson Crowe); Just Cause (Glimcher) (as Tanny Brown); The Tuskegee Airmen (Markowitz—for TV) (as Hannibal Lee)
Othello (Alan Parker) (title role); Fled (Kevin Hooks) (as Piper)
Miss Evers' Boys (Sargent—for TV) (as Caleb Humphries) (+ co-exec pr); Event Horizon (Anderson III) (as Captain Miller); Hoodlum (Duke) (as Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson) (+ co-exec pr)
Welcome to Hollywood (Rifkin) (as Himself); Always Out-numbered (Apted—for TV) (as Socrates Fortlow) (+ co-exec pr)
The Matrix (Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski) (as Morpheus)
Michael Jordan to the Max (Kempf and Stern—doc) (as Narrator)
Films as Director:
Once in the Life (+ sc, pr, ro as Riff Raff)
By FISHBURNE: articles—
"Getting Serious," interview with B. Coleman, in Village Voice (New York), 19 May 1992.
Interview in Playboy (Chicago), April 1994.
"Laurence Fishburne: The Actor Who Puts Risk before Reputation—and Proves Why That Matters So Much," interview with Sheila Benson, in Interview (New York), January 1995.
"Catching Fishburne," interview with Leslie Bennetts, in Vanity Fair (New York), December 1995.
"Moor to the Point," interview with Steve Grant, in Time Out (London), 20 December-3 January 1995–1996.
On FISHBURNE: articles—
Smith, Gavin, "Nobody Rides for Free," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1990.
Smith, C., "Men and Boyz," in New York , 22 July 1991.
Weinraub, Bernard, "Teetering on the Brink of Stardom," in New York Times , 18 November 1991.
Ryan, J., "Deep Actor," in Premiere (New York), May 1992.
Giles, Jeff, "Searching for Larry Fishburne," in Newsweek (New York), 26 July 1993.
Edwards, Audrey, "A Man Called Fish," in Essence (New York), November 1994.
Smith, Chris, "Home Again," in New York , 6 November 1995.
Chutkow, "Flying Fish," in Cigar Aficionado (New York), February 2000.
* * *
Laurence Fishburne is a quietly powerful actor with a commanding screen presence who brings an earnestness and deep intensity to his roles. Essentially, he has played two character-types on screen. The first is analogous to a brutally psychotic time bomb ticking down and waiting to explode. Fishburne is an expert in such parts: witness his Oscar-nominated work as the physically and psychologically abusive Ike Turner opposite Angela Bassett's Tina in What's Love Got to Do with It? Fishburne's scenes with Bassett are nothing short of electrifying as he controls her like a puppeteer manipulating a puppet, shrewdly exploiting her personality flaws while transforming her into his virtual prisoner.
One example of a variation on this character is in Just Cause , in which Fishburne is cast as Tanny Brown, a character who first comes off as a black redneck: a cocksure, chillingly ruthless small-town cop in the New South, where blacks in power can be as corrupt as whites. Brown has brutalized a young black man, accused of raping and murdering a child, into confessing to the crime. As the scenario unfolds, Brown is softened somewhat as he is proven to have been correct in his instincts. Still, this cop's methods can in no way be condoned, and Fishburne's performance is far more interesting at the beginning of the film, when he is menacing.
When playing such roles Fishburne beautifully acts out his characters' intimidating nature, delivering threats in a soft, low voice. The characters he is browbeating—and the viewer—know he is deadly serious, know he is a dangerous man. And given his ability to convincingly portray menace, he was a natural for the title role in Hoodlum : Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, the 1930s mobster who tangles with white rivals Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz. Here, Fishburne transcends his often-pedestrian material, creating a solid portrait of an icily merciless thug.
The other Fishburne screen persona is the streetwise good guy, a thoughtful, soulful sort who has seen too much of the ugly side of life (most usually in urban America). His consummate performance in this role has been in Boyz N the Hood , the first feature directed by 23-year-old John Singleton. Fishburne plays Furious Styles, a black man desperately attempting to be a positive role model for his son Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) in violence-laden South Central Los Angeles. Furious lectures Tre on living a responsible life, and not allowing himself to be seduced by the seamier aspects of the streets. The actor's performance in Boyz N the Hood is every bit as impressive, and as equally award-worthy, as his Ike Turner.
Fishburne rehashes Furious Styles in Steven Zaillian's Searching for Bobby Fischer , in which he also plays an adult who acts as role model to a boy. His Vinnie is a chess hustler who hangs out in New York's Washington Square Park and becomes the mentor of a seven-year-old chess genius. Vinnie prefers that the boy play the game using his instinct, his gut, and his heart—exactly the qualities Fishburne brings to his roles. Yet another "good guy" character is the nononsense political science professor in Higher Learning , also directed by John Singleton, in which he is thoroughly believable as a teacher who attempts to motivate his students by massaging their minds and getting them to think for themselves. He plays a variation of this character in an altogether different kind of film: The Matrix , a science fiction epic in which he is cast as the philosophical leader of a band of cyber-rebels. Fishburne manages to registers strongly amid all the eye-popping, state-of-the-art special effects.
In Deep Cover , Fishburne plays variations on both "good" and "bad" characters. He starts out the contemplative good guy: Russell Stevens, Jr., a cop who agrees to go undercover to ferret out some major-league drug dealers. Stevens, who as a child had seen his father shot to death while committing a robbery, has become a cop because of his desire to "make a difference." Here, too, he plays role model to a boy, a next-door-neighbor whose mother is an irresponsible parent. But as the story develops and Stevens sees he is being lied to by his superiors, he goes over the edge, becoming a renegade—and in essence, becoming the other Fishburne character.
One of Fishburne's first roles was in Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now , in which he was cast as Clean, a young GI serving in Vietnam. The actor was not of legal age when hired for the film; reportedly, he lied about his age so that he could win the role and go on location in the Philippines. Additionally, he has won parts that, scant years earlier, a black actor never could have played in Hollywood movies: the lover of a white woman (Ellen Barkin) in Bad Company , for example, and the Southern sheriff in Just Cause . Also in this category is Othello, with Fishburne in the title role opposite a white Desdemona (Irene Jacob). Old Shakespearean hand Kenneth Branagh co-stars as Iago, and he and Fishburne match each other scene-by-scene. The latter's performance is at once tender and smoldering, and appropriately intense during his character's more tormented moments.
At the same time, some of Fishburne's more personal projects spotlight African-American history; they are fact-based stories featuring black characters as victims and heroes. These include the high-prestige made-for-TV movies Miss Evers' Boys, detailing a U.S. government medical experiment that resulted in the withholding of medicine to black men afflicted with syphilis; and The Tuskegee Airman , an ode to the "Fighting 99th," the initial squadron of black fighter pilots in World War II.