He’s only ever been nominated for an Oscar once, and it was in such a packed year that, even if you think his performance was the best of the year, it’s hard to say he was robbed. (Actually, I think the winner that year was for a supporting performance, but I think all of the performances were really good.) However, he’s been acting since 1973, when he was twelve, and it feels as though he should have at least one more nomination by now. He has won a couple of Emmys and a Tony, though.
He started out credited as Larry Fishburne, when he was young—it’s the name under which he appeared in Apocalypse Now, where he famously lied about his age. Though filming took so long that he actually was seventeen by the time it was over, having started at fourteen. A few of his early credits are under the name of Laurence Fishburne III, then he switched to the casual “Larry” for about twenty years. Then, in the ’90s, he started going by Laurence, and that’s who he’s been ever since.
He is basically omnipresent in pop culture now, doing TV and movies. He’s even played Henry II in a production of The Lion in Winter that I’d love to have seen. And if I first think of him in his guest shot on M*A*S*H, well, that’s in part because he’s one of those people where I first think of him as himself, and I have to think of what role in particular I’m picturing. There are an awful lot to choose from, everyone from his Oscar-nominated Ike Turner to either of the mentor figures he’s done for John Singleton to Perry White. And of course Morpheus.
I guess what he’s best known for these days is mentor characters, come to that, though it’s quite a change from Mr. Clean, the black teenager in Vietnam. I haven’t watched any Hannibal yet, I admit, so I don’t know if it’s the same there, but it seems as though a lot of the place Laurence Fishburne holds is the voice of experience. And yet I don’t believe he’s usually a Magic Negro, because he is perfectly clear that he’s got his own life and doesn’t center around fixing the hero to the exclusion of everything else.
And the man himself is smart and clearly has a wicked sense of humour, which is a lot to do with why I’m writing about him. In fact, the reason he got added to the list was how great he was on The Daily Show the other day. It’s not that I don’t like him a lot in Boyz in the Hood and Higher Learning (yes, I like Higher Learning, subtle though it is not), and I think he was a great Othello in a mediocre movie, and his Perry White needs to be in a better series of movies and all that. But really, how fun was Laurence Fishburne on The Daily Show the other day?