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A versatile performer equally adept at playing both hero and villain, actor Laurence Fishburne emerged on the scene after famously lying about his age to Francis Ford Coppola in order to land a prominent part in the director's seminal "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Though he struggled in small parts over the ensuing decade, Fishburne came into his own as a father trying to keep his son out of the gang life in "Boyz n the Hood" (1991). After richly textured supporting roles in "What's Love Got to Do with It" (1993) and "Searching for Bobby Fisher" (1993), he became the first African-American actor to perform the title role of "Othello" (1995) for a major Hollywood studio. Toward the end of the decade, Fishburne achieved iconic status with his Zen-like performance as the leather-clad Morpheus in the cultural phenomenon, "The Matrix" (1999), a role he reprised in the back-to-back sequels. With appearances in movies like "Mission: Impossible III" (2006), "Bobby" (2006) and "Assault on Precinct 13" (2005), as well as taking over the central role on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ), Fishburne solidified his legacy as a truly diverse and welcome performer.Born on July 30, 1961 in Augusta, GA,...
A versatile performer equally adept at playing both hero and villain, actor Laurence Fishburne emerged on the scene after famously lying about his age to Francis Ford Coppola in order to land a prominent part in the director's seminal "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Though he struggled in small parts over the ensuing decade, Fishburne came into his own as a father trying to keep his son out of the gang life in "Boyz n the Hood" (1991). After richly textured supporting roles in "What's Love Got to Do with It" (1993) and "Searching for Bobby Fisher" (1993), he became the first African-American actor to perform the title role of "Othello" (1995) for a major Hollywood studio. Toward the end of the decade, Fishburne achieved iconic status with his Zen-like performance as the leather-clad Morpheus in the cultural phenomenon, "The Matrix" (1999), a role he reprised in the back-to-back sequels. With appearances in movies like "Mission: Impossible III" (2006), "Bobby" (2006) and "Assault on Precinct 13" (2005), as well as taking over the central role on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ), Fishburne solidified his legacy as a truly diverse and welcome performer.
Born on July 30, 1961 in Augusta, GA, Fishburne was raised by his mother, a teacher, who divorced his father, Laurence Sr., a juvenile corrections officer, prior to his birth. When he was around three years old, his mother moved him back to New York, where he grew up in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was there that he began his acting career as a child, thanks in large part to the prodding of his mother, who did more than just encourage him to be a performer. After performing in a grade school production of "Peter Pan," Fishburne made his professional debut in Charles Fuller's "My Many Names and Faces" (1971) at the New Federal Theatre. Two years later, he had a regular role as Joshua West Hall, the adopted son of a police captain, on "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968- ), which he played from 1973-76. During that time, Fishburne made his feature debut in the urban coming-of-age drama, "Cornbread, Earl and Me" (1975), while participating in the "Talented Unlimited" program at Julia Richman High School. Though he was accepted into New York's famed High School for the Performing Arts, Fishburne declined to attend after being cast in what turned out to be his most pivotal film.
At just 14 years old, Fishburne was whisked away to the Philippines for 18 months by director Francis Ford Coppola to film "Apocalypse Now" (1979), entering a whirlwind of insanity and debauchery that no doubt left an indelible mark on the impressionable young actor. Coppola originally was looking for a 16- or 17-year-old to play the part of a young recruit, leading the younger actor to famously lie about his age in order to get the job. Cast as Mr. Clean, a brash kid from the Bronx who serves as a gunner's mate on a Navy patrol boat that shepherds an Army captain (Martin Sheen) deep into the heart of Vietnam in order for him to "terminate with extreme prejudice" Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a former decorated officer gone mad and operating his own private army of devotees. While delivering a controlled performance on screen, Fishburne was sucked into the madness behind the scenes, falling in with Dennis Hopper and struggling to keep up with that actor's prolific indulgences. But he was also taken in by Coppola himself, who treated the young actor like his own child. It was from the director that Fishburne learned to see films and acting in a more artistic sense.
While "Apocalypse Now" became a critical and commercial hit, earning several Academy Award nominations, Fishburne failed to receive any direct benefit. He spent the next few years floundering in small roles, usually playing some variation of a tough guy or heavy in movies like "Death Wish II" (1982). Coppola maintained his father-like relationship with the young actor, offering him small roles in "Rumble Fish" (1983), "The Cotton Club" (1984) and "Gardens of Stone" (1987). Fishburne was also seen as Swain in Steven Spielberg's acclaimed adaptation of Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" (1985) while also appearing on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" (CBS, 1986-1990) in recurring fashion as Cowboy Curtis, a 1950s-style cowboy who sported a jheri curl mullet. After a turn as a hospital orderly in "A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors" (1987), Fishburne began coming into his own with a leading role in Spike Lee's ensemble comedy "School Daze" (1988), playing the Afro-centrist Dap Dunlap, who leads anti-apartheid demonstrations at an historically black college. Back on the stage, he starred as a loose cannon former convict in the 1990 world premiere of August Wilson's "Two Trains Running" at Yale Repertory Theater, a role that he recreated for Broadway in 1992 and won several prizes, including a Tony Award.
After his no-holds-barred histrionics elevated his psychotic killer in "The King of New York" (1990) above the garden-variety thug, Fishburne provided the moral center of "Boyz N The Hood" (1991) as Furious Styles, a model father who struggles to steer his son, Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) away from South Central Los Angeles gang life. Following a supporting turn in the legal drama, "Class Action" (1991), he radiated a sullen intensity as an undercover cop in Bill Duke's edgy thriller, "Deep Cover" (1992). On the small screen, Fishburne won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Star - Drama Series for his performance in the first episode of the anthology drama, "TriBeCa" (Fox, 1993). Continuing a stellar year, he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his riveting, unflattering portrait of 1960s pop star Ike Turner, who both discovered and terrorized pop singer Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) in the acclaimed biopic, "What's Love Got to Do With It" (1993). He also lent solid support as a streetwise speed chess player who teaches a gifted young boy (Max Pomeranc) to play, despite him having a hired instructor (Ben Kingsley) in the underrated "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993).
In 1995, Fishburne had another career year with starring roles in four diverse features. Reuniting with John Singleton for "Higher Learning," he was a political science professor at Columbus University attempting to motivate his apathetic students (Omar Epps, Ice Cube and Michael Rapaport). Underutilized as a spy opposite Ellen Barkin in "Bad Company" (1995), he delivered the goods as a tough cop resentful of the investigations of a law professor (Sean Connery) in "Just Cause" (1995). Despite never having performed Shakespeare before, Fishburne made motion picture history with his starring turn in "Othello" (1995), becoming the first black actor to portray the Bard's Moor in a major film released by a studio. Also that year, Fishburne made his off-Broadway debut as a playwright and director with "Riff-Raff," a popular, loosely structured drama about an African-American con man (Fishburne) and his relationship with a white junkie (Titus Welliver), which he later adapted into a feature in 2000. Also that year, Fishburne delivered an Emmy-nominated turn as Hannibal "Iowa" Lee, in "The Tuskegee Airmen" (HBO, 1995), which told the story of the first African-American fighter pilots in World War II.
Reuniting with Bill Duke, Fishburne executive produced and starred in "Hoodlum" (1997), essaying real-life Harlem racketeer Bumpy Johnson, on whom his character in "The Cotton Club" previously had been based. The extremely watchable Depression-era film benefited greatly from the fresh angle its black point-of-view brought to a fairly well-known historical account, with Fishburne displaying a great range of emotions lurking under Bumpy's seemingly placid exterior. He earned his second Emmy as executive producer of the universally acclaimed "Miss Evers' Boys" (HBO, 1997), a dramatization of the Tuskegee Study, a shameful medical experiment in which the U.S. Public Health Service withheld treatment from a group of African-American men with syphilis to examine the effects. Fishburne also co-starred as an early participant in the study who romances Alfre Woodard's nurse Eunice Evers. After executive producing and starring as Socrates Fortlow in "Always Outnumbered" (HBO, 1998), he enjoyed his biggest commercial success to date with the sci-fi actioner "The Matrix" (1999). Finding a balance between action hero and Zen Master, Fishburne offered a commanding presence as the mysterious revolutionary Morpheus, who helps guide slacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) toward his destiny in saving the human race from bondage. Added to the spectacle was the arresting visual style of its writer-directors, Larry and Andy Wachowski, which turned the film into a commercial and cultural phenomenon.
After the mega-success of "The Matrix," Fishburne took his first turn behind the camera as the director of "Once in the Life" (2000), an adaptation of his 1994 play "Riff Raff" in which he starred as two-bit hood 20/20 Mike, a supposed expert at self-preservation whose world is thrown into chaos when his white junkie half-brother (Titus Welliver, also reprising his stage role) fouls up a heroin heist. The film was well acted and handsomely filmed, but suffered from the claustrophobic confines of its theatrical origins. Fishburne next appeared in the fast-paced action film "Biker Boyz" (2003) as Smoke, the reigning champion among a ring of African-American professionals by day who become motorcycle street racers by night. That same year he returned to the role of Morpheus for "The Matrix Reloaded" and its filmed back-to-back sequel, "The Matrix Revolutions," though he exchanged his signature cool for volume and bravado in Morpheus' new incarnation as a borderline zealot. Fishburne was next used to strong effect by director Clint Eastwood in the Oscar-baiting drama, "Mystic River" (2003), playing police detective Whitey Powers, who doubts the ability of his partner (Kevin Bacon) to stay impartial on a homicide case involving two of his childhood friends (Sean Penn and Tim Robbins).
Back to playing bad guys, Fishburne took on the role of a powerful crime kingpin whose arrest provokes an all-out invasion of a police precinct house in the well-assembled remake of the thriller "Assault on Precinct 13" (2005). Fishburne next co-starred alongside Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michelle Monaghan in "Mission: Impossible III" (2006), playing an IMF director suspected of being a mole by Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Following an appearance in Emilio Estevez's "Bobby" (2006), a unique ensemble drama centered around the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, he played a scheming DEA agent in the low-budget thriller "The Life and Death of Bobby Z" (2006), before voicing the Silver Surfer in "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (2007). He next had a small role as a casino security agent in "21" (2008), after which he earned a Tony Award nomination for his performance as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in "Thurgood" (2008). Turning back to television, he took over for longtime star William Petersen on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ), playing Dr. Raymond Langston, the new leader of the Las Vegas-based forensics team. While on the show, Fishburne continued to appear in films like "Armored" (2009) and "Predators" (2010).
While his career flourished, Fishburne's personal life hit an embarrassing patch when it was revealed that daughter Montana, from his first marriage to casting director Hanja Moss, was using his name to launch a pornographic career. After an audition tape of her performing leaked onto the Internet, it was further revealed that she was looking to make a multi-picture deal with notorious porn distributor, Vivid Entertainment. Though he declined to publicly comment on the sordid affair, Fishburne was reportedly deeply hurt by his daughter's actions and allegedly cut her out from his life, citing his embarrassment over her chosen career. The previous year, it was reported that Montana had been arrested for soliciting prostitution, with charges being dropped by prosecutors in a plea deal. The incident remained under wraps until his daughter's desire to break into the porn industry. Making matters worse, Montana was in trouble with the law again in August 2010, after she was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and trespassing, which stemmed from a February incident in which she allegedly broke into the home of an unnamed female victim, forced her into the bathroom and savagely beat her. Again, Fishburne refrained from making any public comment. Fortunately, the scandal had little effect on his career, as Fishburne reprised his one-man show for the cable adaptation of "Thurgood" (HBO, 2011), which earned the actor an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. Also that year, his days with "CSI" came to end when he declined to renew his contract for the show in order to concentrate his energies on films and the stage.
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CAST: (feature film)
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"Doing theater makes you feel like a real actor. I have tried to do one play a year since 1982. You do films for a while and because they take so long to get made, it's a year or two after the fact that the film comes out. By then you have forgotten about the work. It's nice to get the feedback from a theater audience." --Laurence Fishburne quoted in Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1991
About his mother who encouraged his acting career since childhood: "She wants me to be a big star, a really big star. She wanted me to make records, to sing. I said no. I didn't want to be a big star. I wanted to be a really good actor. My mother is quite a woman. She would push me. . . . She's very proud of me, but she's mad she doesn't get all the credit. I can't give her all the credit, but I give her a lot. I didn't have much of a childhood, but that's O.K. I have a livelihood." --Fishburne quoted in The New York Times, November 18, 1991
On what he learned filming "Apocalypse Now": "Francis [Coppola] let me know that I could be an artist. Martin [Sheen, still a good friend and godfather to one of his children] let me know I was a good actor. Dennis [Hopper] let me know that it was necessary to go beyond certain boundaries. [Robert] Duvall let me know that it was a business. [Marlon] Brando ... the thing I learned from him was not to take it too seriously." --Fishburne to the Daily News, February 12, 1995
Regarding racial profiling and the LAPD: "When I was younger in L.A., I used to get pulled over by the police for nothing--for being black, for dressing wild. Once it happened five times the same day because I was with a white girl. It's real, let me tell you." --Fishburne quoted in People, October 23, 1995
"I haven't spoken to my mother in two years. I don't even want to mention her. You know what happens when I mention her? I did an interview where I described her as a teacher, and she called me up and said I shouldn't have said she was a teacher--I should have called her an educator! You know why we don't get along? Because I'm famous and she's not!
"I'm grateful that my mom had the foresight and vision to recognize that I was talented and to push me--no matter what her vision was. There's no way I can give this woman credit for what she's done for me. There's no way any kid can repay his parents. Parents make the supreme sacrifice." --Fishburne to Leslie Bennets in Vanity Fair, December 1995
On his experience playing "Othello": "At one point [Kenneth] Branagh and I had to do a riding-into-the-sunset shot, with me jumping on the back of his horse. Neither one of us--these two butch guys with swords--was very proficient. I was afraid to jump on the horse, and I had this sword, so the horse was afraid to come over where I was, and then I jumped on and I almost pulled Branagh off. It was pretty silly, pretty Keystone Kops.
"I've played a lot of characters, and I've enjoyed them all. But Othello is the first character that I've missed. I just love him and miss him terribly. So much so that what I'd like to do in years to come is the play--the full play." --Fishburne to Bruce Weber in Vogue, November 1995
About color-blind casting: "I've been fortunate enough to be associated with people who are brave enough to put me in roles that aren't marked 'black.' But I think the circumstances have to be appropriate. And so much depends on who you are and what the piece is ...
"It's a tricky thing ... I think cultural identity has great importance for each group. It's why there are Puerto Rican theater companies and Pan-Asian theatrical groups. Those things have their importance and their significance and their place.
"But we're a country that's evolving and changing. We're just two-hundred years old, and we're still figuring out how we all fit in and where we're from and where we're going. And as that process works itself through, I think both the cultural-nationalist things and the other ... well, I don't even think they're necessarily opposed to each other. They're parts of the same process. Both necessary parts." --Fishburne quoted in Newsday, August 25, 1997
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