Laurence Fishburne has been reading comics since he was a kid, and has made no secret of his desire to join the vast array of actors who have made their marks in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He did brush up against Marvel once before: he provided the voice for Norrin Radd, a.k.a. the Silver Surfer, in Fox’s woebegotten Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), although of course that film was produced by Fox and not part of the official MCU (Radd and the Four could join the MCU if the proposed Disney-Fox merger goes through, but Fishburne wants to play Galactus now).
Now Fishburne — who has also shown up in the DC film universe as Daily Planet editor Perry White in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — finally gets his chance in the MCU as Dr. Bill Foster, a rival scientist of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Foster made his first comic book appearance back in 1966, and suited up as both Giant-Man and Goliath/Black Goliath over the years. In the new movie, Pym, his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) turn to Foster for help as they try to determine whether Hank’s wife, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), is still alive and able to be rescued 30 years after vanishing into the subatomic Quantum Realm.
Den of Geek had the chance to speak with Fishburne — whose long and impressive credits include Apocalypse Now, Mystic River, Boyz N the Hood, the Matrix trilogy, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Hannibal and Disney/ABC’s current hit series Black-ish — about his love for comic books, his thoughts on the rise of Afro-centric heroes like Black Panther and Luke Cage, joining the Ant-Man series and more.
Den of Geek: You’ve been looking to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Laurence Fishburne: The first time was, however many years ago when they made Rise of the Silver Surfer, I bumped into the director, Tim Story, and I said to him, “I’m Norrin Radd.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “I’m Norrin Radd.” And he said, “Who’s that?” And I said, “That’s the name of the character who becomes the Silver Surfer. When Galactus shows up at his planet, he’s this guy named Norrin Radd. And in exchange for sparing his planet, he has to work for Galactus. Norrin will be his herald as the Silver Surfer and all that.” And he’s like, “Whoa!” So that was my first ask.
And after seeing so many of the films, I knew Louis (D’Esposito, Marvel executive) from New York, we did a picture called The Cotton Club together back 30-some-odd years ago. And when I realized that he was at Disney and I was at Disney, I thought, “Oh, let me go talk to Lou and see if we can figure something out, a way for me to be in the MCU.” So I went to see him, we had a great meeting. They came back and said, “Hey, man, what do you think about Bill Foster in Ant-Man,” and I was overjoyed. I was geeked.
Were you familiar with Bill’s history?
I was not familiar with Bill Foster, ’cause I wasn’t an Ant-Man reader. I was into Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, Hulk, Iron Fist; I was in that world. Ant-Man, I never really got to, but Bill Foster’s a cool character. I knew some of the story of Ant-Man. I knew, for example, I knew who Hank Pym was. I knew about the Pym Particles, and I knew about Janet van Dyne and Wasp. But I wasn’t a reader of those books. I did know who they were peripherally just because I read all the other books. But I thought it was a such a great gift. It’s a beautiful character. It’s a beautiful way for me to enter into the universe.
Have you delved back into Bill’s story since getting the part?
I have not yet gone back, ’cause I don’t want to try and force anything. I want this all to happen organically. If it happens, if I get to suit up, great. If I don’t get to suit up, at least I’m in the MCU.
Do you remember the first comics you did read as a kid?
When I started reading Marvel comics, they cost 10 cents. Couple years later, they went up to 12, I was still buying ’em then. Once they went to 15 cents, I couldn’t afford them, I would steal them, literally. And that didn’t last too long. Then the price went up to 25 cents, but by that time, I was working as a young actor in New York and I could afford them again.
That’s when they had those big jumbo issues. When DC was making those big jumbo ones that cost 75 cents, and Marvel was putting out special edition stuff. But I have been a reader, I’m going to say, since ’68. That’s 50 years.
What did you find appealing and interesting about Bill Foster?
Well, I think it was great that they use Bill as a foil for Hank. As somebody who’s part of his past and his history with the Pym Particles and the technology. So there’s somebody else in the MCU that knows almost or just about as much as he does about his technology, ’cause I think that’s really smart.
I understand that you were really looking forward to working with Michael Douglas.
Absolutely. Are you kidding? As much as we’re contemporaries in a way, because I started acting very young, I also grew up watching him, and really, really admired his career as an actor, his career as a producer, his ability to navigate what it must have been to be the son of the very, very well known and revered film man named Kirk Douglas.
This is a guy who changed our business during his prime certainly. Michael has navigated that brilliantly, and carved out his own place as a star in the firmament, both as actor and producer. So I felt like there was an opportunity, not only to just play with somebody who was so seasoned and so brilliant, but also to learn.
I think it was (Black Panther director) Ryan Coogler who said that it was so powerful for him to be able to pick up a Black Panther comic book and see somebody who looked like him. The comics were doing this in the late ’60s and now the films are catching up.
They were doing it, and I was in New York when they were doing it. That was the great thing about Marvel, is that Marvel was inclusive and was interested in diversity then. Now on the screen you’ve got Luke Cage, you’ve got the Falcon…What I love about Black Panther is you don’t just get one prince, you get two princes, and you’ve never seen that before. You see that in stories about England, princes vying for the throne all the time, but you never seen that in a Black context, and that was just fantastic.
You’re one of the handful of actors who has a foot in both universes, Marvel and DC.
Yes, I am one of the people, I’m in that small club of people who have been both in the DC Universe and Marvel Universe, and I’m so grateful. I’m excited by it, because here’s the thing, I bought both. I have a collection of both comics. I wasn’t just a Marvel guy or just a DC guy, I loved them both.
Are you still on call with DC to come back as Perry White?
I don’t think I’m still on call. I was unfortunately unable to go do some work on what turned out to be the Justice League movie. I don’t know that I need to go back or if they’ll have me back or not, but I was grateful to have been a part of it. I loved working with Zack (Snyder), I think he makes an incredible superhero movie. I’m just excited to be a part of this (the MCU) now.
So you don’t know if there’s a Man of Steel 2 in the works or anything like that?
I don’t. I don’t. I haven’t heard anything about it. They just fell behind the eight-ball. I really wish they had started 20 years ago. But that’s all right, they’re where they are.
How is John Wick 3 looking?
John Wick 3 is going be great. Just finished doing my little bits in New York. And I just started working with Mr. Eastwood again, and Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena on The Mule. So yeah, I got some things happening.
Ant-Man and the Wasp begins previews tonight and is out everywhere on Friday (July 6).