Before Laurence Fishburne controlled the matrix, before he earned an Oscar nod for What’s Love Got to Do With It, and before his two 2017 Emmy nominations (one for Outstanding Narrator and one as an executive producer on black-ish, nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series), the actor worked in theatre.
Contrary to many other actors, Fishburne worked simultaneously onstage and on the small screen at the start of his career in the 1980s. He played in Second Stage’s Off-Broadway productions of Short Eyes and Loose Ends.
After starring in Boyz in the Hood, Fishburne made his Broadway debut (then known as Larry Fishburne) in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, for which he won the 1992 Drama Desk and Tony Awards and a Theatre World Award. The Tony winner won an Emmy that same year for his guest appearance on an episode of TriBeCa.
Fishburne did try his hand at Shakespeare—albeit in the 1995 film version—with the title role in Othello. In 1999, he returned to Broadway in The Lion in Winter as Henry II opposite Stockard Channing and directed by Michael Mayer.
After nearly a decade, Fishburne made another appearance on the Great White Way as the title character in Thurgood, and original solo play written by George Stevens, Jr. The story of the first African-American Supreme Court justice and his role in the milestone Brown vs. Board of Education case. Fishburne was nominated for a Tony Award and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance. HBO then screened a filmed version of the play and the White House hosted a separate screening in honor of Black History Month. Fishburne was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance in the movie.
Fishburne has not stepped back onto the Broadway stage since, but has been earning laughs (and creating poignant moments) and the ABC comedy series, black-ish, as the patriarch of the Johnson family. Since the show’s premiere, Fishburne has been praised for his performance as Earl “Pops” Johnson and this year, he marks that acclaim with his first Emmy nomination for the role.
Tune in to the 69th Annual Emmy Awards September 17 on CBS.