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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Laurence Fishburne

Laurence Fishburne

laurence fishburne

Laurence Fishburne has been a badass for longer than I’ve been alive. I mean, as far as subjects of this column go, it doesn’t get much cooler than the fact that Fishburne, at fourteen, lied about his age to get hired for APOCALYPSE NOW. The fact that he came of age while working in the jungle on a drug-fueled, wildly unpredictable set that was so stressful it almost killed Martin Sheen and sent other cast members off to rehab or insanity says something. Becoming one of Francis Ford Coppola’s faves, Fishburne was part of his unofficial stock company for awhile, which included appearances in THE COTTON CLUB, RUMBLE FISH and GARDENS OF STONE, while making a name for himself in eighties fare like BAND OF THE HAND and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET III: THE DREAM WARRIORS.

laurence fishburne apocalypse now

In the late eighties/early nineties, Fishburne’s career really took off, with a well-received part in KING OF NEW YORK and stand-out work in BOYZ N THE HOOD and the gangster-action flick DEEP COVER, putting him on the map. In ‘93, coinciding with his name change from Larry FIshburne to Laurence Fishburne, he took a huge leap forward playing Ike Turner in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, which landed him an Oscar nomination. From there on, Hollywood tried to refashion him into something of an action star with roles in the underrated FLED & EVENT HORIZON, before he signed-on for the role that, for better or worse, would define his career - THE MATRIX.

laurence fishburne the matrix

That film, and the sequels, put him on the A-list, and since then Fishburne’s showed up in tons of stuff, including his recent turn as Perry White in the DCEU films, a run on TV’s CSI & “Hannibal”, as well as a mysterious lead in Tony Kaye’s BLACK WATER TRANSIT, which almost a decade later, has yet to see the light of day. He’s also made a name for himself in comedy, stealing scenes on a weekly basis on the much-loved sitcom, “Black-ish”, and is currently earning raves for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in the BET miniseries, “Madiba”.

His Best Work
laurence fishburne the matrix

Even without THE MATRIX, Fishburne would be well-worthy of being called one of the major actors of his generation, but it can’t be denied that no film of his will endure quite as much as THE MATRIX will. The Wachowskis really struck a chord with this one, and Fishburne’s performance as Morpheus is deservedly iconic. In charge not only of the exposition, but also serving as Neo’s zen-like mentor, which includes the great kung-fu battle mid-way through, he totally threw himself into the part and became an icon in the process.

His Most Overrated Work
laurence fishburne the matrix reloaded

Which brings us to the sequels… In the years since they premiered to a mixed reception, many fans have come around to them, and to be fair, there are great moments in RELOADED, such as Morpheus’s big moment facing down an agent, and battling a truck with a sword. Yet, both films are so goofy and dull that they really can’t be given a pass - and for me the Wachowskis have yet to make anything that really comes close to rivaling the original.

His Most Underrated Film
laurence fishburne event horizon

A couple of years before THE MATRIX, Fishburne starred in Paul W.S Anderson’s sci-fi/horror mash-up, EVENT HORIZON. A huge flop initially, it’s picked up a cult following, and Fishburne keeps the movie grounded with his commanding performance, which plays almost like a dry run for Mopheus. This ultra-gruesome film was a pretty terrifying watch theatrically, and one can’t help but wish studios still made big R-rated sci-fi horror on this level, as it was an A-production all the way.

His Best Scene

If you only came of age after THE MATRIX came out, it’s hard to explain just how much of an impact the movie’s action sequences had. In particular, the fight between Morpheus and Neo, choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, felt revolutionary how it mixed a wu-xia Hong Kong aesthetic into the sci-fi setting - to the extent that years after, every action movie from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: II to ROMEO MUST DIE and CHARLIE’S ANGELS had similarly styled battles. This one remains the best.

His Five Best Roles

5. WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT
4. KING OF NEW YORK
3. BOYZ N THE HOOD
2. THE MATRIX
1. APOCALYPSE NOW

Up Next

While Fishburne’s apparently not coming back as Perry White anytime soon, he’s in the middle of shooting LAST FLAG FLYING, opposite Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston, for Richard Linklater, which is a sequel to the classic THE LAST DETAIL. Could Fishburne land another Oscar nod? Fingers crossed for him.

Source: JoBlo.com

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