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‘It was the most formative experience of my entire life:’ Laurence Fishburne reminisces about ‘Apocalypse Now’

'Last Flag Flying' actor opens up about working on Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece when he was just 14.
Laurence Fishburne in Apocalypse Now and at the Last Flag Flying premiere
[Images: Getty]

In Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Eleanor Coppola’s 1991 documentary about the chaotic production of her husband’s 1979 war epic Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola at one point declares, “My movie is not about Vietnam. My movie is Vietnam.”

The destruction of the film’s sets, the firing of lead actor Harvey Keitel, the near fatal heart attack of his replacement Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando turning up to set overweight, and Francis Ford Coppola’s own breakdown, constant re-writing of the script and two-year long editing process were just some of the struggles experienced during production.

It would have been enough to overwhelm even the most experienced of actors, let alone Laurence Fishburne, who when production on “Apocalypse Now” began in March, 1976, was just 14-years-old, having lied to get the part of 17-year-old Mr Clean.

Back in September I had the chance to talk to Laurence Fishburne about “Last Flag Flying,” which revolves around three Vietnam veterans reuniting for the funeral of one of their sons. During our discussion I asked the 56-year-old actor whether playing a Vietnam veteran made him reminisce about working on “Apocalypse Now,” which led Fishburne to admit that the experience has never actually left him.

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“It’s not so much that it comes into my head. What you have to realize is that ‘Apocalypse Now’ was most formative experiences of my entire life. Being so young when I did it. And it being a Vietnam film. Probably one of the most important Vietnam films if you will."

“It certainly informs everything I did in [‘Last Flag Flying’]. I did that movie, I did ‘Gardens Of The Stone’ with Coppola, another Vietnam film, I did ‘Rumor Of War’, too, so I have all of this Vietnam experience, if you will.”

When I pushed Fishburne for more information about how “Apocalypse Now” changed him, he simply replied, “Everything about it. I mean it was 2 years of my life. You know? [laughs] And that’s a big deal. So everything about that experience, and from the other two movies informed what I was doing. Not that I had to think about it. Because it is part of my history. So it is just there.”

Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carrell, and Bryan Cranston star together in Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying,” which is now in select theaters, while those of you that haven’t seen “Apocalypse Now” or “Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” need to do so immediately. 

 
 
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