Interview: Laurence Fishburne

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This film is about the possibility for the terms of our national character..we’re headed in the right direction


(Laurence Fishburne in Bobby).

Born in Augusta, Georgia on July 31, 1961, but raised in Brooklyn, which he still considers home, Laurence Fishburne has enjoyed an enduring career in film, theater and on television.
An Academy Award-nominee in 1994 for his unforgettable performance as Ike Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It, he’s also won a Tony for his work in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, along with a couple of Emmys for Miss Evers’ Boys and for Tribeca. Here, the distinguished actor reflects on his latest outing, as hotel chef Edward Robinson in Bobby, a costume drama revisiting the hours leading up to the assassination of RFK inside L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel shortly after midnight on June 5th, 1968.

BSN: What interested you in Bobby?
LF: I thought that this notion of this event that we, the audience, all know is coming, but, in the telling of the story, the characters don’t know is coming, was kind of a very interesting perspective to have and way to tell the story.

BSN: What did you think of the script?
LF: I got the script, actually, the day before I went to work. I read it, and I was really, really impressed with the piece in terms of dealing with 22 different lives. I really enjoyed reading it, because you’re dealing with so many different kinds of relationships. So, there’s a lot of sadness in it, a lot of pain, a lot of laughter, a lot of joy, a lot of compassion and understanding, a lot of conflict, all things that we experience as human beings. So, it was very full, and very rich. It was a very, very thick kind of tapestry that he has [writer-director Emilio Estevez] woven into the script, and I think that he has executed it very, very well.

BSN: What do you think inspired Emilio to make this movie?
LF: I believe that Emilio’s true inspiration for this movie is his father [co-star Martin Sheen] in many respects, because his father was very much a supporter of the Kennedy family, and he’s also been politically active throughout his life. So, if I had to say there was one source of inspiration for Emilio to take this journey and make this film, it would definitely be Martin Sheen.

BSN: Where do you think this film will find an audience?
LF: It becomes really interesting when you start thinking about what the audience will be for this film, and you look at all the people who have been cast here. It spans about four generations, which is really incredible. So, I believe that the movie has the ability to cross generational lines. I think the movie’s for everybody.

BSN: What was America like at the time that this picture was set?
LF: 40 years ago, there were a number of things going on in our country which were of great concern to everyone, obviously, race relations, the Vietnam War, and our foreign policy. So many changes were occurring very, very fast. There was also a young people’s movement that was happening when they took to the streets proclaiming peace and love, juxtaposed by this terrible war that was going on in Southeast Asia. It was a very fertile time for change in our country, and we also had a kind of leadership at the forefront that made these positive changes very possible. It was very much within our grasp to really change our country.

BSN: How does Bobby deal with these issues?
LF: The really wonderful thing about the way Emilio has crafted them in the movie is that he deals with all the issues of the day in really personal and specific ways in terms of how the characters connect to each other, the things that bring them into conflict with each other, the things that they have in common, the hopes and the dreams that they have that they’ve actually hung on Robert Kennedy, and the use of archival footage are all woven into the fabric of the script, and really make for a wonderful historical document in many ways.

BSN: How do you think the country reacted to the assassination of RFK?
LF: Clearly, the message that was meant to be sent was that if you are interested in doing and saying things that are going to change this country for the better, you will be assassinated. I think that’s the message, and I think that message has sustained itself. I think it began with the assassination of JFK, and continued with the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The message was that if you are interested in changing business as usual in America, they have a bullet for you.

BSN: Do you think that trauma explains the apparent apathy of the younger generation today?
LF: Absolutely. I think it’s why most of us are apathetic.

BSN: Tell me a little about your character.
LF: I play Edward. Edward is the sous chef at the Ambassador Hotel, the number two man in the kitchen. Essentially, I’m the cook.  And I’ve been around for awhile. I’m a middle-aged man. I’ve lived, I’ve been around and made my peace with life, and with my disappointments with life, and I try to impart a little wisdom to some of the younger fellows who are working in the kitchen with me.

BSN: The film seems to explore cross-cultural tensions through your character?
LF: In the Fifties and Sixties, race relations really came to the forefront of American politics in a way that they hadn’t before. The film makes an attempt to illuminate that with some of my scenes, and others, and I think it does a good job of representing what the country looked and felt like with respect to different races and cultures coming together.

BSN: How would you describe this movie’s message?
LF: I think this film is about the possibility for the future, what we are capable of as a country, in terms of our national character, and how we really have to take steps to turn ourselves around, because I don’t think we’re headed in the right direction.

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