Laurence Fishburne Talks Career, ‘-ish’ Universe and Cicely Tyson at Atlanta TV Fest

Laurence Fishburne as Pops in ABC's 'black-ish'
(Image credit: ABC)

Laurence Fishburne opened up about his career, the Black-ish universe and working with Cicely Tyson Friday, during an “In Conversation” session at the 2021 SCAD aTVFest.

Fishburne, who was honored with the SCAD aTVFest Lifetime Achievement Award, said he is always trying to look forward.

“I think what that does is it allows me to remain curious and excited about the possibilities,” he told moderator Angelique Jackson, a film and media reporter at Variety.

Over his 50-year career, he has starred on the big and small screen in films such as Apocalypse Now, The Matrix and Hoodlum and series such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Hannibal, and most recently Black-ish.

“It’s just a different medium,” said Fishburne. “I’m an artist and like any artist they work in pencil, and they work in watercolor or they can work in oil. It’s just a different medium. It’s all acting. It’s all like painting or drawing or sketching.”

But, said Fishburne, there is a difference between working in film and TV.

“Because of the fact that television is in the home, you don’t have to go to the television,” he said. “You turn the television on and you become a member of the family when you’re on television. So there’s a familiarity. There’s a closeness that is different than the intimacy of watching a film or the intimacy of being in the theater.”

Angelique Jackson interviews Laurence Fishburne during the 2021 SCAD aTVFest. (Image credit: SCAD aTVFest)

Fishburne has spent a lot of time in the home lately with his turn as Pops in the ABC sitcom Black-ish. Now in its seventh season, the series has spawned multiple spinoffs, including Grown-ish, Mixed-ish, and the upcoming Old-ish, which will star Fishburne as Pops and Jenifer Lewis as Ruby.

“I came to this thing [Black-ish] thinking, ‘Wow, are we really going to do this? Are we really going to do this? Are we really going to do this?,’” he said. “And then suddenly it was like ‘oh my God, they’re going to put us behind Modern Family. We might be a big hit.’”

“So I was more surprised than you can even imagine just that Black-ish was a success," he added. "The fact that Grown-ish came along and then Mixed-ish came along is just beyond my wildest dreams. It is so wonderful.”

Since Old-ish is still in development, Fishburne couldn’t say much about the show. But he did say the series will look at Pops’ and Ruby’s relationship in a different context, a “world of their own making with other people their own age.”

“It’s gonna be I think a marvelous exploration of what it is to be part of the, living in the age of elegance and mastery,” he said. 

Fishburne also talked about working with Cicely Tyson, who died in January at 96

“Cicely, as grand as she may have appeared to be was fundamentally a humble person,” he said. “I think she had tremendous humility and at the same time she had tremendous personal power.”

“But it was because she walked with gratitude and with grace that she had those things,” he continued. “She was not just an example of how to be in the world, particularly for Black women in the world, but for Black people she was an example of how to celebrate ourselves, our culture, our beauty, our intelligence, our artistry, our culture and ultimately our humanity. And that was really visible not just in her work but in her life and the way that she lived it.”

Also Read: TV Industry Remembers, Celebrates Cicely Tyson

Jessika Walsten

Jessika is an analyst for TVREV and Fabric Media. She previously served in various roles at Broadcasting + Cable, Multichannel News and NextTV, working with the brands since 2013. A graduate of USC Annenberg, Jessika has edited and reported on a variety of subjects in the media and entertainment space, including profiles on industry leaders and breaking news.