“It wasn’t about the part.”
Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction was a career-pivoting moment for Samuel L. Jackson. But the role of Jules in Tarantino’s breakout 1994 film was initially offered to Laurence Fishburne. In an interview with The Ringer at the top of 2020, the controversy-stirring director claimed Fishburne rejected the role because it wasn’t a lead in the film.
However, in a recent chat with Vulture, Fishburne disputed the director’s take on why he turned down the opportunity to star alongside Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, and John Travolta in the iconic picture. According to Fishburne, “it wasn’t about the part.” He goes on to detail his reluctance to join a film that made light of heroin use, describing the film’s treatment of drugs as both “cavalier” and “a little loose.”
“I felt like it made heroin use attractive. For me, it’s not just my character. It’s, ‘What is the whole thing saying?’,” Fishburne told Vulture. The actor also clarified that he passed on the role of Radio Raheem in Spike Lee‘s Do The Right Thing for similar issues of consistency regarding the film’s plot and overall messaging. “There are ways in which he takes creative license with Do The Right Thing that just didn’t feel right to me,” Fishburne notes.
Commenting on the central conflict in Lee’s 1989 film, the actor adds, “If you have a business in the heart of the African American community, but you’re not African American but you’ve been there for generations, then you become a member of the family, which means you’re basically protected from anything that should happen.”
Though he’s been uncannily selective with taking on roles throughout his career, Fishburne did manage to break through some years later in The Matrix, starring as Morpheus in the Wachowski’s dystopian trilogy. Currently, he’s preparing for a return to Broadway in a revival of American Buffalo, the premiere for which has been delayed due to COVID-19.