Laurence Fishburne hopped from 'Apocalypse Now' to 'M*A*S*H' to mega-star
His career started with a little white lie about his age. Here’s how intuition — and Bugs Bunny! — led him from M*A*S*H to The Matrix.
"I guess everybody's entitled to their own opinion," Laurence Fishburne says in his guest role as Corporal Dorsey on M*A*S*H.
For this episode, "The Tooth Shall Set You Free," Hawkeye praises Dorsey's commanding officer just before Fishburne delivers this retort.
When Hawkeye asks if there's a problem with the C.O., Fishburne's eyes roll knowingly and he responds, "My only problem is that I'm tired." He then rolls over in bed to emphasize the conversation is over.
When Fishburne appeared for this role, he was 21 years old and had just made a splash a few years prior with his appearance in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now.
To get that role, Fishburne lied about his age, claiming he was 16 years old when he was really only 14, when the movie began casting in 1976. In an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, Fishburne said he remembered Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppolla saw his audition and stopped a random administrative assistant passing through the set to ask, "Excuse me, you think this kid could be 18?"
Fishburne said the woman turned around, looked Fishburne up and down and said, "Yeah, I guess so."
Because that one woman was entitled to her opinion, Fishburne got the role.
"I think they knew," Fishburne said of his real age being 14. "I don't think I was fooling anybody."
It was while working on Apocalypse Now that Fishburne befriended actor Emilio Estevez and soon was best friends with the entire "Brat Pack," but in a 2020 interview with Vulture, Fishburne discussed how disappointed he was when his career didn't take off as fast as theirs did.
While the Brat Pack dominated pop culture in the Eighties, Fishburne continued working on his acting, inspired by Dennis Hopper's legendary performance in Apocalypse Now.
"I watched all of my friends, who I was introduced to by Emilio, become stars in their 20s," Fishburne said. "Now, they had only started acting in their teens; I had started acting when I was 10. I watched them all star in their own movies in their 20s. That didn’t happen for me until I was 30."
Luckily, Apocalypse Now gave Fishburne a big enough confidence boost to keep pushing on.
"I've got this thing that I've done, and this thing is the most expensive movie ever made with the greatest living American filmmaker and the actor who changed everything," Fishburne said. "And these guys are artists. If I'm associated with these guys, then I must have some gifts. I must have some value. Maybe I'm not as valuable as you think I am, but I know inside that I've got something to offer and that it's pretty special."
So instead of leaping to the big screen with Emilio, Fishburne trusted his intuition to guide him to choice parts like his guest role on M*A*S*H. "My intuition guides me absolutely," he confirmed.
Fishburne first understood he was meant to be acting when he was a young boy watching cartoons. He said it was there that he began assuming other identities by morphing into his favorite characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
"It was just in front of the TV," Fishburne said. “There were voices coming at me in the TV, and I would just send them back. Mel Blanc, Bugs Bunny."
But if you've watched Fishburne give sensational performances in his movies, like portraying Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It or Morpheus in The Matrix, you probably recognize that the real reason he's won Emmys and a Tony goes deeper than just imitating some of film history's best talents, whether it's Mel Blanc or Dennis Hopper.
For Fishburne, his delivery in performances must be perfect because to him, that's how you put the show in show business.
"It is show business, but the show comes before the business when you look at the word," Fishburne said. "Now, people on the business side will tell you the business comes before the show. I get it. I have no problem with people doing their business, and I have no problem with people asking me to do business on behalf of the show. My heart is in the show. That's where my heart is. That's where I really, really live."