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What makes Laurence Fishburne cry?

Kathryn Shattuck, Dec 2 2017, 23:38 IST

It's a scenario ripped from the headlines: a grief-stricken family member is summoned to meet the coffin of a fallen soldier, and complications ensue. And it brought Laurence Fishburne to tears. "I wept through the movie - I was so moved by it," he said of Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying. "We struck the right tone. Although it deals with subject matter that is sombre and tricky, we were able to bring a lot of levity and humanity to it," Laurence says.

In Last Flag Flying, Fishburne plays Rev. Richard Mueller, who has found God after a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam. When his long-lost war buddies Doc (Steve Carell) and Sal (Bryan Cranston) unexpectedly appear during a Sunday service in 2003, he reluctantly joins them on a road trip to Dover Air Force Base, where Doc is to meet the coffin of his only son, a Marine killed in Iraq, and accompany it to Arlington National Cemetery. More echo than sequel, the film revisits characters originally created by novelist Darryl Ponicsan and adapted by Hal Ashby in the 1973 movie The Last Detail.

In a call from Los Angeles, a few days before President Donald Trump's controversial condolence call to the Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson, Fishburne talked about military sacrifice and the impact of his TV series, black-ish.

Excerpts from a conversation:

'Last Flag Flying' grapples with a complex, highly emotional situation...

I think the film transcends the politics of the day in that it really deals with the camaraderie among men at arms and the way they are bonded pretty much for life as a result of having to experience combat together. It also illuminates beautifully the anguish of the loss that people feel when a loved one goes off to serve and makes the supreme sacrifice.

It's comedic in many ways yet stars Steve Carell in an unusually serious role.

When I say that Bryan and Steve are master actors, you must remember that we have these little symbols for the actor: the comedy mask and the mask of tragedy. Steve is perhaps best loved for his comedic work, but it's not like he hasn't developed his skills for tragedy.

You're only nine years older than Anthony Anderson, who plays your son on 'black-ish'...

I was only (about) nine years older than Cuba Gooding Jr. when I played his dad, too, (in Boyz n the Hood). And I was cast in Apocalypse Now at the age of 14 to play a 17-year-old. It's my luck that I was born a bit of an old soul, and it's served me well.

How did the 'Apocalypse Now' casting go?

I had been acting for about four years when I met with Francis Coppola and Fred Roos, who produced the film. And Fred did all the talking, while Francis sat there quietly observing me. They asked simple stuff like, 'How old are you?' And I lied and said 16. Then they asked, 'What grade are you in school?' And I said, 'A freshman - I mean a sophomore.' Then a receptionist walked in, and Francis finally spoke up and said, 'Do you think this kid could be 18?' And she took a look at me and went, 'Sure,' and walked out of the door. And the rest is history.

'black-ish' has dealt with police brutality, the presidential election and even menstruation. Do you have any say about the issues that the creator, Kenya Barris, tackles?

Kenya and his writing staff do their thing, and when I have an idea or a suggestion, we throw things at the wall and see what sticks. I trust his point of view because it's not that different from mine. You have to remember that Kenya, myself, Anthony, any number of our producers - we've been black all our lives.

And yet less than a quarter of 'black-ish' viewers are black, according to a Nielsen study.

We're trying to reach everybody that we can with the specificity of our culture and our experience, the joys and challenges and vicissitudes of what it's like for us in this country at the moment. And if the numbers are any indication of how we're doing, the reality is that our experience is universal.

You've been working for 16 years on an adaptation of Paulo Coelho's 'The Alchemist'. Any other passion projects?

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