Six journalists sit alone in a room on the 22nd floor of a Madison Avenue office building. An hour later, Laurence Fishburne appears, sans his famous shades. The star of “The Matrix” and the upcoming “Biker Boyz” shakes hands and takes a seat. We, the reporters, pounce.
Question: You’re a motorcycle aficionado. When you were making the film, what aspect of [urban biker] culture did you find surprising?
Laurence Fishburne: I was surprised at how diverse the clubs are — These guys are from everywhere, just in terms of their cultural makeup. They’re everything and everybody. I was also surprised to learn that there are, like, gay motorcycle clubs. There’s so many different kinds.
Like the motorcycle club I belong to, all right, it’s the Guggenheim Motorcycle Club. What’s that? Billionaires and movie stars. So for me, that’s what was surprising — how the love of these machines cuts through all kinds of barriers.
Q: When I talked about this movie, [people called it] “The Fast and the Furious” with bicycles. I’d like to know if you agreed with that.
LF: No, no, I don’t. Not “The Fast and the Furious” on two wheels — This movie has, at its heart, a great story about a family. And it is the thing, I think, that gives the movie character, emotional weight, and emotional power that I didn’t find evident in a movie like “The Fast and the Furious.”
Q: So you worked with Kid Rock. What’s it like working with someone for whom this is his first foray into acting?
LF: He’s wonderful. He was a little nervous, but he was fine. Like we hung out. He played his guitar and we broke out the tamales, sat around, had a few beers like bikers do. It was cool.
Q: What’s your overall opinion of this influx of rappers and musicians coming into a lot of films?
LF: I think all art is one — I think that if anybody has the impulse and decides to express themselves in another medium, that that is something that should be encouraged and should be appreciated. Once upon a time you had people in our business who did a little bit of everything — they sang, and they acted, and they danced. This is pretty much the same. If a guy or a gal wants to put down the mike and put on the mask, I can’t be mad at that.
Q: Have you ever put down a bike?
LF: Oh, yeah.
Q: What was the first time?
LF: The first time I was on Ocean Avenue in Venice, California, and I was riding a Suzuki 11. It was nighttime, and it was the classic left-hand turn kind. A guy turned left on me, and I laid the bike down and let go of it. And I was armored up and everything. I got up and it was great — and the bike was too heavy for me to pick up. Some old guy came across the street and looked at me and said, “You know, you’re a damn good motorcyclist.” I said, “No, but thank you very much, sir.” And that was the first time.
Q: It’s really embarrassing when you can’t pick [up your own bike].
LF: You know what? I was fine with it — My vanity is not in that place. I was totally alright with not being able to pick the bike up. And I was very pleased about laying it down and having an old guy go “Hey, sonny, you’re quite a rider.”
Q: Where do you think the attraction, particularly men’s attraction, to bikes comes from?
LF: I don’t know — It could be the speed, it could be chrome, it could be the sound, could be the feeling. I’m not sure. All I know is that when the Guggenheim museum opened the “Art of the Motorcycle” show, all those years ago, the museum had the highest attendance it’s ever had in its entire history.
Q: For yourself?
LF: For me? It’s the spirit of the ride for me.
Q: With movies — like “Barbershop,” “Brown Sugar,” “Drumline” — that have been released in the last year, and now “Biker Boyz” — they’ve all been movies that targeted black subculture, or different aspects of black life. What do you think of this trend, and do you think it’ll continue?
LF: Oh yeah, it’ll continue. There’s a lot of stories that come out of black communities that will get told — I think we all have an understanding that the responsibility for our condition lies with ourselves — and I think that’s important. And I think that’s something that we’ve embraced to a certain extent, and I think it’s because we’ve embraced that, we’re making movies like this — that are not about being angry at anybody else, that are really about revealing who we really are in it’s full way and showing the full spectrum of who black folks in America really are. We’re different, like everybody else. We’re a very diverse group of people. And it’s nice to be able to express it–
Q: Can you tell us anything about “The Matrix”?
LF: “The Matrix” is going to be unstoppably watchable. You’re gonna get to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. The technology is going to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. They’re going to release two animated shorts in February. Then you can go to a website and visit for free. I think they’re called “Renaissance,” and they deal with how the world we live in today got to be the world that it is. When “Dreamcatcher” comes out, there’s a nine minute Animatrix attached to the end of “Dreamcatcher” called “Flight of the Osiris” that sets up the plot for “Matrix: Reloaded.” And then, the same day as the movie, “Enter the Matrix” [the video game] comes out.
Q: You’ve received numerous accolades throughout your career, but since “The Matrix,” your star power has reached a new height — do you feel like you’ve become more of a star than an actor?
LF: It’s really interesting because I’ve just realized that I’ve become a star. I’ve always known that I’m an actor. I’ve just really come around to the idea that I’m actually a star for some people, and that’s not comfortable for me. But I’m trying to figure out how to deal with it. And we’ll see.
Q: Tell me about when you look at a genre or a role — how do you choose?
LF: I try to choose things intuitively. I pick the things that speak to me. You know, there’s no science to it — I did this thing for Clint Eastwood called “Mystic River” where basically I just play a detective named Whitey and I’m running around with Kevin Bacon. But I got to play with Bake, and I got to play with Sean Penn, and I got to play with Tim Robbins, and I got to play with Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden, and Eli Wallach. I don’t know about you, but, see, for me, that’s really doing something.