Fishburne brings humanity to 3rd 'Matrix'
by Angela Dawson
HOLLYWOOD - Laurence Fishburne acknowledges that he and his "Matrix" character, Morpheus, have a lot in common.
And that's no accident, according to the actor who reprises the role in the third and final installment of the sci-fi adventure series, "The Matrix Revolutions."
"I've always had faith," he said, sitting on the Warner Bros. lot just weeks before next Wednesday's opening. "It's no coincidence that I wound up playing this role. There's a lot of me in him and a lot of him in me."
Asked to elaborate, Fishburne, 42, only smiles.
Having played the same character in three movies, Fishburne is certain of one thing: only he - and maybe filmmakers Larry and Andy Wachowski - fully understands what Morpheus represents, and he is both irritated and fascinated by those who make assumptions.
"I'm the custodian of this character," he said. "I decide what he feels and doesn't feel. Let me play my character alone and let me play him myself. If you want to play him, play the video game."
The veteran actor first plugged into the fantasy world of "The Matrix" seven years ago. He was cast to play the leather-clad rebel warrior who spurs young computer hacker Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) to join him and his beautiful cohort Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in a battle against the machines that have laid waste to the real world.
An oracle's prediction has convinced Morpheus that Anderson - a.k.a. Neo - is "the One" destined to lead humans to overthrow the machines and reclaim the Earth. "Agents," computers who take on human form, pursue Anderson to stop him from fulfilling his destiny as the battle of humans and machines heats up.
"The Matrix" was the first Hollywood film to combine expensive special effects gadgetry with Hong Kong-style action in a futuristic setting, and the public was sold. The first two films have garnered nearly $1.2 billion worldwide at the box office. "The Matrix Reloaded," the sequel released in May, is already the highest-grossing film of 2003, taking in more than $735 million worldwide to date.
"The Matrix Revolutions" picks up the action where "Reloaded" left off and culminates with a big-action finale.
Throughout the series, Morpheus's belief in Neo never wavers, although Fishburne points to a distinctive arc in his character.
"In the first movie, (Morpheus) is all-knowing, all-powerful," he said. "He's the mentor-teacher guy. In the second movie, he's the spiritual leader, the general and rabble-rouser. He's the crazy man. And in the third, he's the human being who's at the core of those other guys."
Some fans may be upset that Morpheus's humanity comes through so strongly in the final act, he said, but they'll simply have to deal with it.
The Wachowskis made "Reloaded" and "Revolutions" as a single film presented in two parts and shot the films simultaneously on a 270-day production schedule.
Though playing Morpheus was physically and emotionally demanding, Fishburne says he is "eternally grateful" to have been part of the "The Matrix" franchise.
Even before "The Matrix" became a worldwide phenomenon, Fishburne enjoyed a long career on the big screen and the stage, often playing tough, macho characters. As a child he performed in off-Broadway productions.
By age 12, Fishburne was a regular on ABC's "One Life to Live." Two years later, he landed the role of an underage gunner on a Navy patrol boat in Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam epic "Apocalypse Now."
After "Apocalypse Now," Fishburne appeared in three other Coppola movies - "Rumble Fish," "The Cotton Club" and "Gardens of Stone" - as well as Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple."
In 1986, on his first day of playing Cowboy Curtis on the TV series "Pee-wee's Playhouse," Fishburne befriended an ambitious young security guard who wanted to become a filmmaker. Four years later, John Singleton was finishing film school at USC and sent Fishburne a copy of his screenplay, "Boyz N the Hood."
The 22-year-old director wanted the actor to play the role of Furious Styles, a father figure based on Singleton's own father as well as on Fishburne himself. Fishburne obliged. His turn as a hard-driving father who teaches manhood to his son (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is considered one of his best performances.