With his deep baritone voice, penetrating stare, and knack for playing take-no-prisoners badasses, Laurence Fishburne is not easily intimidated. We’re talking about a guy who, on a recent afternoon in Manhattan, freely admitted to once considering himself ”one of the baddest motherf—ers in New York.” But even the man who played Morpheus gets creeped out by the hyperrealistic maggots, cadavers, and other assorted blood and guts that are integral to CBS’ hit series CSI. ”Oh, all the time!” the actor says, scrunching up his face in disgust. ”Body parts and all that?”
Gross — but so much fun. And beginning Nov. 9, Fishburne, 48, will be getting a triple dose of it, leading a three-episode crossover that finds his character, Dr. Raymond Langston, heading to CSI: Miami and CSI: NY to solve a case that begins with (what else?) a severed leg. In anticipation of the buzzed-about arc, we asked Fishburne to share some memories about the standout roles from his 37-year career.
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
At 14, Fishburne went to the Philippines for the epic shoot. Living in a country under martial law — I don’t think I was able to comprehend that. But the movie made me understand that cinema can be art. To work with Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper — and to be able to say I was in a movie with Marlon Brando is an honor. I cannot say I had the pleasure of working with him in a scene, but I can say I was in a movie with him!
PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE (1986-90)
Paul Reubens hired Fishburne to play Pee-wee’s pal Cowboy Curtis. I met Paul in ‘79 or ‘80, and I remember being mildly annoyed with Pee-wee’s behavior. Like, ”Who is this guy?” But then in ‘86 we got this call: ”I need a cowboy. What are you doing?” I loved doing Cowboy Curtis. I based his voice on Gomer Pyle. ”Surprise, Pee-wee! Surprise, surprise, surprise! Wooo, doggies!”
KING OF NEW YORK (1990)
Director Abel Ferrara wanted Fishburne to play a cop, not gold-toothed thug Jimmy Jump. I kept saying, ”Abel, man, you gotta let me play Jump.” I got a pair of gold fronts made, I got B-boy glasses, the sneakers, the f—in’ hat, the whole thing. I suited up, went to Abel’s office, and was with him and Chris Walken for three hours, just bein’ Jump, telling stories. He was like, ”Okay.” I love Jump with all my heart.
BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)
Fishburne earned raves for his quiet, authoritative performance as Furious Styles, a single father raising a teenage son (Cuba Gooding Jr.) in gang-infested South Central L.A. Writer-director John Singleton had been a security guard on Pee-wee’s Playhouse and wrote the role for Fishburne. When I read the script, I cried. What can I say? I’m grateful. What a tremendous gift to be recognized for playing a positive role model, especially at that time. Even though I’d been working forever, that’s when the larger community went, ”Who the f— is that?” [Laughs] I’d been famous with black Americans since I did Cornbread, Earl and Me [in 1975], but white people didn’t notice me until Boyz N the Hood.