As one of about 15 or so people to have been in both the DC and Marvel Comics universes, and while James Marsden and Dolph Lundgren are talented in their own ways, only Laurence Fishburne possesses a certain gravitas. A costar in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, Fishburne made an appearance alongside producer Stephen Broussard at AT&T Park last evening for the Giants-Padres game to promote the home release of that latest installment of the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU). (It’s out on Blu-ray on Oct. 16.)
A 1992 Tony winner for Best Featured Actor in a Play (in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running), Fishburne played Daily Planet editor Perry White in 2013’s Man of Steel and currently stars on Black-ish, and he’ll also star in Clint Eastwood’s forthcoming crime film The Mule. Recently, during a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation award ceremony, Fishburne teared up while thanking his mother for her support, but earlier in the day he was in high spirits, talking about his experiences in the last 20 years of big-budget films and a possible return to the stage.
This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award.
Laurence Fishburne: Thanks, that was cool.
You got only a little bit emotional.
LF: A little bit, little bit.
Means a lot though, right? More than a Tony?
LF: Yeah. More than most of them. [laughs]
I bet the awards kind of accumulate after awhile. So I want to ask you about how big-budget films have evolved in terms of your perspective, because you’ve done a lot of them now. Has there been a lot of change in terms of your day-to-day experience on the set and in terms of the finished product?
LF: No, not for me. I started with The Matrix in 1998, it was the largest independent [laughs] movie ever made, and then by the tine you get to Man of Steel, it’s something else, you know? And now in the MCU, because they’ve been doing it for 10 years, there’s kind of a blueprint, a working manual that has to grow and evolve and be kind of organic for it to really work. Both at the production level and then at the performance level. It’s The Matrix that broke the technology and allowed filmmakers to then deliver the kind of movies that Marvel has been delivering for 10 years.,
So it essentially set the template that everyone’s been following with little tweaks.
LF: Pretty much.
Your job is hard because you’re dealing with all these things with many commas in the dollar amounts and trying to keep everything separate and make sure every film has its own personality while also making sure the overall franchise move forward in a way that holds people’s attention. Does that get harder and harder with each edition?
Stephen Broussard: It does. It’s sort of the variation on the issues and the problems that have always been there, which is that at any given moment you’re making one movie and that movie has to be entertaining, it has to work on its own terms.
SB: And nothing that came after it or before it will matter if it’s not, so you kind of have to be a little myopic, purposely so, when you’re making this movie. The way that Marvel is set up with people like myself and my peers, my boss [producer] Kevin Feige, is that you’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to go off and live with a film and make it the best it can be. We’re competing with everything out there: everything that’s come before us, everything that’s contemporary with us, so it’s not necessarily that we’re trying to figure out new stories to tell and new things to do within the MCU. It’s how can we keep people engaged, period, when they have access to all of cinema history to watch.
That’s not a mind-boggling amount of minutiae that continues to accumulate, that you feel you have to keep track of?
SB: Not really. By design — because if it ever starts to feel like record-keeping, or a continuity lesson, if the movie feel like you’re reading a Wikipedia page …
LF: It’s gotta be fun. And I think there are like three or four people that I kind of have to credit the success of Marvel to, in terms of the tone that they keep getting right. It’s obviously [series creator] Stan Lee, Kevin Feige, it’s RDJ [Robert Downey, Jr.], and it’s [producer] Louis D’Esposito. Because I think all of them love the world. They love the Marvel Comics Universe. They know it, intimately. And when you love it that much it’s not minutiae. [laughs]
I’m glad you have a positive experience with this.
LF: There’s always this. [Fishburne winks.] There’s always that.
Elaborate on that wink for me, please.
LF: I give Robert Downey, Jr all the credit for this. When he started with Iron Man, he was always doing this with the audience. He was always going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m smart, I got all these cool toys, but wait: Dig it, we’re having fun.” They always, in every Marvel movie you watch, they let the audience in on the fun. And that’s why it works.
What about LGBTQ representation in the future? Are we going to see more?
SB: Absolutely, it’s happening behind the scenes, you know? It’s going to be there in a lot of film that we get to announce. It’s a big part of the future.
In terms of, I don’t want to ask you give away anything because obviously you’re not gonna, but how far into the future does the most tentative plan extend? Five years?
SB: Yeah, we’ll talk in five-year terms, of which the first two years are the most firm at any given moment.
Are you going to return to theater acting much?
LF: Well, I was last on stage in 2010, and the theater bell rang for me about two-and-a-half, three years ago, but I got this little show I do called Black-ish and these other movies and things, like The Ant-Man and the Wasp. So there’s a lot of stuff I do. I do plan to return to the theater sometime within the next five years.
August Wilson, maybe?
LF: Who knows? But I’ll be back.
Is there a part you’re hankering for someone to revive and offer to you?
LF: Not necessarily. There are many, many plays that I would like to do, and hopefully as the gears go on, I will get to do them.