Laurence Fishburne Gets Religious About 'Reloaded'
by Vanessa Sibbald
Laurence Fishburne is in an exceptionally good mood as he sits down in a replication of the Zion set on the Warner Bros. lot. Stars and journalists have congregated to discuss "The Matrix Reloaded," the second film in "The Matrix" trilogy, which will conclude when "The Matrix Revolutions" opens this November.
In "The Matrix" Morpheus, named after the Greek god of dreams, was the head of a crew of humans freed from the Matrix, a computer program created in order to enslave human beings so that machines could use them as an energy source. Half-leader, half-prophet, Morpheus risks all in order to free Neo, who he believes to be "the one," a prophesized messiah of sorts who will free the rest of the human race by being able to manipulate the Matrix.
It may sound complex, but Fishburne says the tale is a very old one -- and that's what helped make the film so popular.
"It's the retelling of the old myth in a modern context. The old myth is like 3,000 years old and they've used some very clear, recognizable archetypes in the characters; Trinity and Morpheus and Neo, this whole sort of reluctant messiah, hero's journey -- it's a story that’s been with us for a long time. They've just taken that story and adorned it with things that are very, very recognizable in our contemporary world," he says of the directors, Andy and Larry Wachowski.
In "Reloaded," the myth continues, although it takes some turns the fans may not expect.
"Once Neo takes on the mantle of being the one, the way that Morpheus has functioned for most of his life, all those things cease to really work for him so he has to make a huge adjustment of how he moves through the world," Fishburne tells Zap2it.com, but much of this will take place in "Revolutions."
"Here's what it is: in the third movie Morpheus becomes more of a follower than a leader. He has to follow and sometimes that's hard for a leader to do," he says. "It's interesting, you get to see the resolution of that at the end of the third movie. All the relationships get resolved. Myself and Niobe, Neo and Trinity, Neo and Morpheus, even our relationship to the Oracle has kind of a resolution."
While Fishburne has received critical praise for his performance as Morpheus, executives at Warner Bros. originally were not thrilled about having him in "The Matrix," leading the Wachowski brothers to have to convince them to allow Fishburne to play the part.
"I know that the Wachowskis fought for me, but I read the script and I knew I was playing Morpheus. I knew I was playing Morpheus when I read it. I've had that happen one other time for 'King of New York'" he says.
But returning to the part was "nice," he admits.
"It's nice. Some of the preparation is the same. Some of it is easier, some of it's harder because I had to reveal more, so that was a bit scary -- he's not just a guy with glasses who's scary and cool," Fishburne says. "It's wonderful, it's a chance to play superheroes. It's wonderful."
Plus there's the fact that in "Reloaded" and "Revolutions," Fishburne's wife, Gina Torres, got to play a small part, meaning she spent some time with him on set.
"That's a long story that I won't go into," he says about Torres' casting. "All I will say about that is that the Wachowskis were brilliant enough to cast my wife in this. And she was happy."
In fact, Fishburne had a lot of praise for the Wachowski brothers, but his biggest kudos were reserved for their writing skills.
"Their greatest strength to me is that they're writers, they're fantastic writers. They write things that are so layered, 15-20 meanings in an exchange of four lines between three people -- which is always what great writing is. So if you know that, you can take that and trust it, surrender to it and invest in it if you want. Put some shit in it that they weren't expecting," he laughs.
Supporting the myth behind "The Matrix" is a mishmash of iconic and religious references, sprinkled with musings by philosophers dating back to man's very beginning. While Fishburne says the "spiritual voodoo mumbo jumbo" wasn't the reason for doing the film, he does agree with most of it.
"A lot of that spiritual and philosophical stuff is stuff that I spend a lot of time developing in myself -- I started developing in myself maybe 15 years ago -- so it's kind of in me," he says. "I don't think of myself as being a philosopher or as being particularly religious, but I do think of myself as being a spiritual person.".
"In every doctrine and every dogma and every spiritualism, in every religion there are some basic spiritual truths," he elaborates. "All these things are road maps for human being to use to try to live better lives, to try to make themselves better people. I am familiar with those concepts because I spend a lot of time reading shit, that's all. I'm making it up as I go, I'm trying to do the best I can to be the best human being I can."
But he says that wasn't the thing that intrigued him most about the original film.
"I don't know if it had anything to do with me saying yes to 'The Matrix'. I wasn't focused on the philosophical elements as they are layered into the story, I was really intrigued by the idea that there's this world where there's one world that's real and there's another world that's in your head," he says.
Next up, Fishburne is returning to the director's chair for a big screen adaptation of Paul Coelho's novel, "The Alchemist" -- another spiritual story that explores the idea of man's destiny.
"I believe in the power of dreams and I believe it's our responsibility to make our dreams come true and I believe that everybody has a dream," Fishburne says of his reasons for taking on the project. "And I believe this book is one of those touchstones; it's one of those things when people read it, it re-energizes them and makes them feel like they can achieve those things. That's a positive thing."
Touching on similar ideas as "The Matrix," Fishburne isn't worried he'll be treading on old material.
"I think it will be very different; it won't be as dark. The idea that machines are using us as batteries is pretty severe, you know?" he laughs.