The “Black-ish” Interview
with Kam Williams
Fishburne Baby Fishburne!
Laurence J. Fishburne, III has achieved an impressive body of work as an actor, producer and director. Starting at the age of 10, Laurence starred on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” He made his feature film debut at age 12 in “Cornbread, Earl and Me” and followed that up a few years later with “Apocalypse Now.”
His television performances include “The Box” episode of “Tribeca” which earned him an Emmy award and “Thurgood,” which earned him an Emmy nomination. He starred for three seasons on the hit series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and he was an Emmy Award nominee and an NAACP Image Award winner for his starring role in the telefilm “Miss Evers’ Boys,” which he executive-produced. And he can currently be seen alongside Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen in the NBC thriller series “Hannibal.”
Through his production company, Cinema Gypsy, Laurence is scheduled to executive-produce and star in “The Right Mistake,” a dramatic television series for HBO. The company also made the movies “Akeelah and the Bee,” “Five Fingers” and “Once in the Life.”
Among his many film credits are “Boyz n the Hood,” “A Rumor of War,” “The Color Purple,” “The Matrix” trilogy, “Decoration Day” and “The Tuskegee Airmen,” for which he received an NAACP Image Award. Laurence also won the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World, and Tony Awards for his portrayal of Sterling Johnson in August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running.” In 2006. he reteamed with his frequent acting partner Angela Bassett at The Pasadena Playhouse in August Wilson’s “Fences.” directed by Samuel Epps.
Here, he talks about playing Pops on the new TV sitcom, “Black-ish.”
Kam Williams: Hi Laurence, I’m honored to have another opportunity to speak with you.
Laurence Fishburne: Thank you, Kam. It’s good to hear your voice.
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I’m mixing in their questions with my own. Aaron Moyne asks: What inspired the title Black-ish?
LF: Ah, the title came from Kenya Barris, our writer/creator. It’s like “squeamish” or “Jewish” or other “ish” terms like that.
KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Why this show? Why now? And Harriet Pakula-Teweles says:What was “intrigue-ish” about doing this show?
LF: What was intriguing to me, first of all, was that it’s comedy, which is something I don’t do a lot of. I’ve wanted to do comedy for a while, and the elements of this show fit. They really made sense in terms of my doing a comedy basically about a well-to-do black family with children of privilege, living in modern America, in our Digital Age. I can relate to what all of that means and how we have to navigate it. So, that’s the why and the where.
KW: How would you describe your character, Pops, in 25 words or less?
LF: [Chuckles] I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t describe my character Pops in 25 words or less.
KW: Director Rel Dowdell says: You’ve presented some of the most memorable images of African-American men at either end of the spectrum with “Furious Styles” from “Boyz N the Hood” and Ike Turner from “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Is it difficult to portray characters that are so different in persona and morality, and do you have a preference?
LF: I don’t have a preference. The wonderful thing about what I do is being able to run the gamut. It’s never the same. I don’t get excited about the idea of playing the same person all the time. I do get excited about being able to explore different people and different characters, and using my range, as it were.
KW: Professor/Filmmaker/editor Hisani Dubose says: Please ask the wonderful Mr. Fishburne why he decided to do comedy. He’s such a great actor that I’m sure he’ll pull it off.
LF: Because I haven’t done much of it and because a lot of people don’t know that I actually can be quite funny. Plus, I feel that the context of the show, the timing of everything, and my wonderful cast mates, Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, all added up to the perfect combination of ingredients. It just makes sense at this time. And actors should be able to do both comedy and drama. At least the good ones.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you get to ad-lib on the show?
LF: Yes, we do.
KW: Shelley Evans asks: Is it any easier for African-American actors to land parts on television and web series these days?
LF: Well, it’s certainly easier than it was 30 years ago! [LOL]
KW: Sangeetha Subramanian asks: Do you think diversity has improved on television over the years? There is still so much more to do, but is there anything the general public can do to campaign for more authentic diverse images being represented?
LF: I think that if the general public would use that social media tool to express their desire to see a more authentic and genuine representation of what the American family looks like, then that would be helpful.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I have a high respect for you as an actor for decades and I was blown away to discover even more your high-caliber when you performed the role of Thurgood Marshall for the play. My question is what does Marshall represent to you and how did you prepare for the role?
LF: Thurgood Marshall represents so much to many different people. For me, he really came to represent not just the courage that African-Americans have had to have in the face of discrimination and racism, but the courage that was borne out of the love that he received from his family, his community, his educators and his classmates. Everything he did was borne out of that love and support that was given to him. He also went into the lion’s den not only with great courage but with great humor. So, he’s really a towering figure in our history.
KW: Is there another historical figure you would like to portray?
LF: I’m sure there are many, but I couldn’t pick just one right now.
KW: D.V. Brooks says: Mr. Fishburne, having become one of our esteemed elders in the performing arts and public figures what advice would you like to pass on to the upcoming generation of writers, actors, producers and directors of color in continuing the legacy of such individuals such as Ruby Dee, Amiri Baraka, August Wilson and others like yourself?
LF: The real answer to that is that when I see those young people I will give that advice to them. It is for them and for them only.
KW: D.V. also says: You and I share an experience from our youth: the Model Cities summer programs. What did that experience, along with the support of your parents, Laurence, Sr. and Hattie, instill in you as an artist?
LF: The Model Cities experience didn’t really inform me as an artist as much as it informed me as a human being. It was a very safe place to be, and I came away from that experience with a lot more confidence in myself as a person.
KW: Marcia Evans says: Kam, you must use my questions and comments. Please start off by letting Laurence know that I’ve followed his career since One Life to Live. Let him know that I’m a huge fan of his work, especially the amazing performance he honored us playing Socrates Fortlow in “Always Outnumbered” That blew me away. I went thru a box of tissues that night. Thank him for me because he really brought it.
LF: Thank you, Marcia.
KW: She goes on to say: I know his lovely wife Gina Torres has Cuban roots. I wonder if he’s had the pleasure to visit Cuba as yet.
LF: No I haven’t been to Cuba yet.
KW: She also says: I’m aware he is a music lover and I’d like to know whether he digs Cuban vibes.
LF: I love Cuban music.
KW: Next, she asks: What are your favorite countries to visit?
LF: Goodness! I love Morocco. I love Italy. I love Spain. And I love Tahiti.
KW: Finally, Marcia suggests: They should make a film about Hannibal, and cast you, Mr. Laurence Fishburne, in the title role. You’d make a splendid Hannibal!
LF: That’s very kind, Marcia. Thank you very much!
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
LF: No. [Chuckles]
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
LF: The last book I read would be right here on my Kindle. It’s called “Perfect Brilliant Stillness.”http://www.amazon.com/exec/
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
LF: I enjoy making Arroz con Pollo for my wife.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Laurence. I really appreciate it. And best of luck with Black-ish.
LF: You’re welcome and thanks, Kam.