MCM: Laurence Fishburne


Starting out at 10-years-old on the soap opera One Life to Live, Laurence Fishburne has had both lucky breaks and a hard-working actor’s life. He got roles in a string of director Francis Ford Coppola films after he lied about his age. He met soon-to-be director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) when Fishburne played Cowboy Curtis on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He excelled in Spike Lee’s School Daze but turned down Do the Right Thing. And he’s the face of endless memes now, thanks to his role as Morpheus in The Matrix movies. But Laurence Fishburne has some frock flick cred too, and I’d love to see him flex his historical costume acting muscles again. How about you?



Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Laurence Fishburne, Apocalypse Now (1979)

Fishburne was only 14 when he headed off to the Philippines for this two-year filmmaking odyssey about the Viet-Nam War.



Robby Robinson in The Six O’Clock Follies (1980)

Laurence Fishburne, The Six O'Clock Follies (1980)

Also set during the late 1960s in Saigon, this was a military ensemble comedy that lasted one season.



Corporal Dorsey in “The Tooth Shall Set You Free,” M*A*S*H (1982)

MASH - Laurence Fishburne

Fishburne’s character reveals how his commander is a racist fuck, & the surgeons connive a way to get that major booted from the army.



Jimbo Collins in For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (1983)

Laurence Fishburne, For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (1983)

A TV movie about the NAACP field secretary & civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963.



Bumpy Rhodes in The Cotton Club (1984)

Laurence Fishburne, The Cotton Club (1984)

Set in 1920s-30s Harlem, much of the Black characters’ backgrounds were cut in the original theatrical version of the film against Francis Ford Coppola’s wishes. A later director’s encore version restored more of Fishburne’s scenes.



Swain in The Color Purple (1985)

Laurence Fishburne, The Color Purple (1985)

He plays guitar to accompany Shug at the juke joint.



Ike Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)

Laurence Fishburne, What's Love Got to Do With It (1993)

A very compelling bad guy.

In an interview with Vulture, Fishburne said of playing Ike Turner:

“I was trying to humanize him, because in humanizing him, you deepen her. It’s a complicated relationship when it’s abusive and one has dominance over the other and is manipulative, and I just felt like for him to be just the villain wasn’t going to be good enough.”

[Not an editor’s note: Fishburne is SO EVIL AND SCARY AND MEAN in this film, and yet SO FRICKIN’ HOT, I am always conflicted! — Kendra]

1993 What's Love Got to Do with It 1993 What's Love Got to Do With It



Hannibal Lee in The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

Laurence Fishburne, The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

A fictionalized account of the first African-American combat pilots in WWII.



Othello in Othello (1995)

Othello (1995)

My favorite Othello onscreen!

In the article, “Two Actors on Shakespeare, Race, and Performance: A Conversation between Harry J. Lennix and Laurence Fishburne,” in Shakespeare Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 3, Fishburne discussed how he played Othello and found a backstory within the text.

“For the actor, myself, I’ll tell you why it was great for me, why I would love to do it again, why I do believe it is extremely challenging and it’s challenging ot that aspect of having pride in one’s own race and one’s people. Very, very difficult. Because he is a child. He goes from being this great general to being almost an infant. And that hurts. You can’t get around it; it’s in the text. … I had to figure my way around it, or my way through it, a way to go through that journey.”

Othello (1995) Othello (1995)



Caleb Humphries in Miss Evers’ Boys (1997)

Laurence Fishburne, Miss Evers' Boys (1997)

Sorry, I can’t find any pix from this TV movie — it’s about the U.S. government’s 1932 Tuskegee syphilis experiment, so pretty relevant still.



Bumpy Johnson in Hoodlum (1997)

Laurence Fishburne, Hoodlum (1997)

A 1930s Harlem gangster movie with a stellar cast, so on my to-watch list!



Edward in Bobby (2006)

Laurence Fishburne, Bobby (2006)

Fishburne plays a fictional sous chef at the hotel where Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 in this odd, all-star-cast flick.



Thurgood Marshall in Thurgood (2011)

Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood (2011)

A TV movie of Fishburne’s theatrical one-man show about the NAACP lawyer turned Supreme Court judge.



Alex Haley in Roots (2016)

Laurence Fishburne, Roots (2016)

He plays the author of the book Roots, which is Alex Haley’s family story.



Nelson Mandela in Madiba (2017)

Laurence Fishburne, Madiba (2017)

A TV miniseries about the South African civil rights leader.




What’s your favorite historical costume movie or TV role by Laurence Fishburne?

13 Responses

  1. Natasha Rubin

    Ooh, some of these sound really good and I didn’t know about them! (‘Thurgood’, for example.) I loved him in Othello.

  2. Janet

    Loved him in ‘Othello’ as well. Still my favourite rendition of a very problematic & yet still relevant Play.
    He stayed with me as Ike Turner, the longest time, after seeing his portrayal in ‘Whats Love Got to Do with It’. It was disturbingly good. But was hard for me to shake. Had forgotten that he had a part in ‘The Color Purple’ which is, in my humble opinion, the best book adaptation (into film) ever made.
    Not a F.F. role or “role” at all….But I laughed my ass off at Laurence Fishburne’s stone cold narration of Netflix’s ‘Death to 2020’….- “so BAD they named it twice!!” 🤣

  3. Kate D

    He’s such a great actor. Loved his performance in Othello, a hard role and he crushed it.

  4. M.E. Lawrence

    Will always love him for breaking character during a Broadway play and telling a rude audience member to shut off his/her effing cellphone. Enthusiastic applause followed.

  5. Nzie

    ahh, I agree–so many things I didn’t know about that look good. Haven’t seen tons of his work, but really enjoy what I have seen.

  6. Saraquill

    Of these, I’ve seen The Color Purple. Definitely should see more on this list.

  7. Susan Pola Staples

    Madiba and Othello are my favourites. I didn’t even know he was in the Cotton Club. Hopefully, I can find the director’s cut. And Tuskegee Airman.

  8. Roxana

    That is one hot Othello! Desdemona would have to be crazy to prefer another man to that! But of course she doesn’t. Othello is gaslighted by Iago.

    • Lily Lotus Rose

      I agree, but we must also acknowledge that Nathaniel Parker was at peak hotness as Michael Cassio!! Fishburne and Parker were both so FINE in this movie. And Branagh didn’t look bad either!!

  9. Hooley

    While most people’s favorite sequence in Apocalypse Now is Robert Duvall and the helicopters clearing the beach, my favorite is Fishburne dancing to the Stones as another member of the riverboat crew waterskis behind as Sheen reads papers on his mission to find Brando. The surreal combination of military duty, reckless youth, frivolous recreation and the agricultural Vietnamese has stuck with me ever since I saw the film. Fishburne was so very young (14-16) and his youth as well as his acting talent really emphasize that so many US soldiers in. Vietnam were boys.

  10. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, Lord–I’ve never seen him give a bad performance. Even when you think he might be miscast, he always manages to pull it off. And his VOICE–I long for him to narrate the works of Edgar Allan Poe. But I digress–I LOVE his Othello. And his version of Ike Turner is just–WOW!!!!

  11. Beverly

    “Hoodlum” is a definite must see! It has Cicely Tyson and Clarence Williams III as well, and the fashion seems to be on point.