Laurence Fishburne Has Been Working on His Solo Show, Like They Do In the Movies, for 15 Years | Playbill

Special Features Laurence Fishburne Has Been Working on His Solo Show, Like They Do In the Movies, for 15 Years

The Tony-winning actor reunites with his Thurgood director Leonard Foglia for his new show at Perelman Performing Arts Center.

On a stage in lower Manhattan, a large figure emerges from the wings and dances through the shadows to the center of the stage. Of course, everyone in the audience knows who it is: we've come here to see Laurence Fishburne in his new solo show Like They Do In the Movies. But we will meet several people over the course of the next two hours: a brothel owner in Australia, a neighborhood bar regular in the Bronx, a lawyer in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and Miss Hattie and Big Fish (Fishburne's parents). 

We will also meet the man himself, at his most honest and vulnerable. We won't see Morpheus or The Bowery King. We will see the young son of an abusive mother and a largely absent father as he begins to find his place in the world.

The Tony- and Emmy-winning actor describes the show, running through March 31 at Off-Broadway's Perelman Performing Arts Center, as "the stories and lies people have told me. And that I have told myself.” Stories is the right word. Authored and performed by Fishburne, the show is structured as an evening of stories. First, the Tony-winning actor speaks directly to the audience, introducing himself as a lifelong actor and storyteller.

Fishburne began writing the show years ago, but shoved the uncompleted draft in a drawer, where it sat for 15 years. During the pandemic, he found it again. "I wanted to get back to my writing practice. I hadn't been creatively writing for a while—just journaling and stuff like that," he tells Playbill. "I started reading a bunch of books about writing. I felt like I have an innate ability and a great ear for how people talk, but I felt like I was lacking in structure and story." 

Director Leonard Foglia was surprised to hear that the script had been in a drawer for that long. "So this all existed the last time we worked together?" he asks. Fishburne simply answers, "Yeah."

The last time they worked together was another solo outing for Fishburne—the 2008 Broadway production of George Stevens, Jr.'s Thurgood. Fishburne was Tony-nominated for his turn as Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice on the United States Supreme Court. 

Laurence Fishburne in Thurgood. Photo by Carol Rosegg

It's clear to see, as the two men sit side-by-side, that there is a friendly ease between them. "We sort of clicked when we met," says Fishburne. They joke that they even have the same initials, but Foglia adds that if he's sending an email in a group, he signs it "the other LSF."

When Fishburne was ready to begin mounting Like They Do In the Movies, he returned to Foglia. Not only for their existing relationship, but because he knew the director would have the right skills to navigate the project. "He's worked with Anna Deavere Smith, the late Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones, Audra McDonald—I mean, he has the confidence to not only work with those people, but to sort of guide them and help them find their way through all of this terrain that you explore as an artist," says Fishburne.

And Like They Do In the Movies has a lot of terrain to explore. Though the show is somewhat biographical, it is not a career retrospective, nor is it Fishburne's whole life story. He does focus on his childhood and his parents, but then the show transitions and he performs five character monologues. Each person he brings to life is someone interacting with, or telling a story to, Fishburne. One is a security guard keeping fans away from Fishburne on a film set, knitting as he regales the star with stories of his two common-law wives. Another is a man in lower Manhattan who hustles as a car washer and sleeps in a parking lot shed. Each character is remarkably distinct. "He has a natural ear for how people speak," says Foglia of the actor.

"Some of these stories are true, some are fiction, and some of them are a combination," says Fishburne. "One of them is one of my best friends in the world." He won't say who, though—the Emmy winner imbues each with so much love and care that they all feel personal.

"The characters that I'm playing in this thing are not the kind of characters that would normally get a camera focused on them. They're not the kind of people that they make movies about," says Fishburne.

Foglia adds: "Laurence is the one shining the light on these people. Their voices need to be heard."

Laurence Fishburne in Like They Do In The Movies Joan Marcus
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