Disclaimer: I don’t know the man, I’ve never met him. It’s entirely possible he’s the nicest, most accommodating, genial and interesting person ever to walk the face of the earth. If he is, I give him full marks for that. This isn’t a commentary on Laurence Fishburne The Private Man, this is entirely about Laurence Fishburne The Actor And His Characters. Entirely not personal. I’m concerned with his on-screen presence and his characters and what about them makes me hate him. Which is why I titled it 'Reasons Why I Hate Laurence Fishburne's Stable Of Smug Characters' and not 'Reasons Why I Hate Laurence Fishburne' because man, I don't even know that guy! So know that I am not attacking an individual here. Bullies aren't cool, kids. Don’t be a bully or, as Wil Wheaton sagely advises, a dick. Underneath every celebrity is a human being. Don’t ever forget that.
I feel that at some point I'll end up writing an impassioned piece about the necessities of separating fiction from reality especially as it applies to actors and their characters but not today.
Laurence Fishburne is one of those highly acclaimed actors whose spell I just don't fall under. He was in two seasons of my beloved CSI, much to many a fan's chagrin, and is currently set to return to rampaging through Hannibal's second season as Jack Crawford. He is also known for films like The Matrix, Contagion, Event Horizon, Othello, and many many others. I'm not sitting here telling you I think his films and shows are crap. Quite the opposite, actually. He's in some incredible things! Stellar stuff. It's just his characters that drive me mad. Why? Well to be honest I didn't care until he messed with CSI. There are few things in entertainment more sacred to me except vampires (I'm scowling at you, Twilight) and unnecessary remakes of perfectly good films (seriously, The Sound of Music?). Everybody likes lists so here's a handy one detailing what exactly is so off-putting about him.
His characters and their seemingly pathological need for control.
From the obvious incarnation of this in his Ike Turner portrayal (What's Love Got To Do With It) to the more subtle but equally as frustrating way his Ray Langston started bossing everyone on CSI around despite the fact he was a lowly CSI Level One like half a season ago at the time, he appears either unwilling or unable to blend into any sort of ensemble and let other characters take charge. He controlled Neo, too, remember? Sure, sure, Morpheus offered both pills but did he ever detail exactly what Neo would experience? No. He kept control of the information flow. He’s not a wallflower. He will find ways to bend everyone to his will regardless of his actual job and that control may well end up in your death (Neo), your growing mental instability (Will Graham) or your demotion (Catherine Willows).
When tense or questioned, he yells.
This one has become more apparent in Hannibal than anything else but he did his fair share of vocal acrobatics in the final season of CSI as well. He likes to bark out orders and when they are not immediately followed, increases volume by a factor of eight or nine. He’s like Nigel Tufnel but without the cool or the wit. He’s just always a hair away from eleven. Possibly my favorite example of this is when some poor dude entered the public men’s room in the FBI building on Hannibal and his Jack Crawford instantly hollered “USE THE LADIES!”
He is smug.
Maybe it’s just the way his face sits at rest. My face at rest defaults to ‘bitch’ - yes, I have Bitchy Resting Face - just as Jeremy Renner’s face at rest defaults to ‘dour’. So perhaps this isn’t so much an acting choice as just the cut of his jib. But it lends his characters this lofty holier-than-thou attitude that is either intentional and bad acting or unintentional and frustrating.
He ruined two perfectly good seasons of CSI.
Maybe none of you care about CSI and that’s your loss but I care. Like Faith No More, I care a lot. He entered well as Grissom departed mid-season and it was a clever, well-plotted introduction. But when he was taking solo cases by the start of the next season despite entering as a neophyte Level One and running meetings despite the fact that Catherine was the supervisor and, my personal favorite, getting Nick and THE POLICE BOMB EXPERT to uplink their exploration of a bomb-making facility to his hospital room so he could advise remotely… well… it was ridiculous and annoying and made me not-so-silently root for his nemesis Nate Haskell, truth be told.
I will personally never forgive him for Catherine’s demotion.
It’s personal. It's fictional. It’s a personal fictional vendetta. That’s on him and he has to carry that.
The popped collar.
One time, on CSI, he popped the collar of his nondescript sport coat. On Hannibal they will insist on dressing him like he’s Morpheus’ more corporate but just as mysteriously dickish Matrix-bound brother. So much black! So many long coats! So. Many. Popped. Collars. I feel we are one episode shy of a big dance number featuring switchblades and creatively cooked tongues.
Everything is always all about him.
When Will Graham tells Jack Crawford that the bodies and the serial killer investigations are essentially making him sick and insane and he might need to step back, Jack’s response is basically “But where will my investigation be without you? I need you to do this for me.” On CSI this manifested as an obsessive need to put Ray Langston’s personal vendetta against serial killer Nate Haskell at the forefront of every investigation even if said investigation had nothing whatsoever to do with Nate Haskell. (An obsession which would ultimately result in the death of his ex-wife's new husband, the kidnapping and torture of his ex-wife, the firing of Morgan Brody from the LAPD, and the demotion of Catherine and Nick.) It drove him to buck the confines of even Catherine’s admittedly loose command to pursue his own obsessive search for some girl from CSI: NY. In Event Horizon everybody died horrible deaths. This may be more Sam Neill’s fault but my god Laurence Fishburne was there. HE WAS THERE! In The Matrix this resulted in a whole lot of fighting and near-death scenarios for Trinity and Neo and a lot of intense “Do it for me and the good of my vision of The One” moments from Morpheus.
Either Laurence Fishburne deliberately seeks out smug, bossy characters who favor popped collars - in which case writers, stop writing that character because my god that character sucks - or he turns every character into that because it's his favorite type to play. Either way, I'm not a fan.
- Corinne Simpson