Laurence Fishburne Looks Back on Childhood Acting Days

With the hit ABC comedy series “Black-ish” on the air and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in the works, Laurence Fishburne’s fifth decade of top-tier thesping is humming right along. Straight out of the gate, when he was 11, Variety was singing his praises in the TV pic “If You Give a Dance You Gotta Pay the Band,” on Dec. 19, 1972.

You were 11 years old when you got a great review for “Gotta Pay the Band.” Was that a big deal for you?
When I first appeared in Variety, the paper wasn’t on my radar. And it didn’t get on my radar until I was 17 or 18.

Did you avoid reviews or did someone keep them from you?
No. The thing that made an impression on me was when I first appeared in Jet magazine. And every time I made it into Jet and Ebony, it was a big deal to me, because it was a big deal to the black community.

Were you competitive? What was driving your career at such an early age?
I was really excited to be doing the work I was doing because I loved it so much. I found my passion when I was 10 years old. I had artistic goals more than anything else. I was inspired by certain performers and I wanted to carve out a career comparable to the people I admired: Mr. (Sidney) Poitier, James Earl Jones, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton.

So even early on, you were dreaming big?
It wasn’t intangible to me. If they could do it, I could do it and I gave it a shot to see if I could make it happen.

Who helped you make it happen?
My mom and my godfather, Maurice Watson, and (casting director) Fred Roos was the guy who discovered me. He remembered me from my performance in “Gotta Pay the Band” and cast me in “Apocalypse Now.”

You were a teenager doing stage, TV and films. Did you miss out on a so-called “normal” childhood?
I used to be nostalgic about those things about childhood I missed. … But I got to do other things.

What were the perks?
I got to miss some days of school and hang out with grown-ups and my face was on TV. And when I was 15 I went to the Philippines for two years to make “Apocalypse Now.”

So you’re the exception to the “troubled kid star” rule?
I like to think I’m a pretty well-balanced person for someone who was a child actor. We get a bad rap. You know, you only hear about us when we mess things up!

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