Laurence Fishburne Recalls First Reading John Singleton's 'Boyz n the Hood' Script: "I Was in Tears"

Laurence Fishburne and John Singleton during The 67th Annual Academy Awards - Getty-H 2019

"John's first language was the moving image. He talked in movie images," the actor says of the director, who died April 28 at age 51 following a stroke.

John and I met while we were both working on Pee-wee's Playhouse [Fishburne played Cowboy Curtis]. He was a P.A. on the show. Every day, John would go up to Paul [Reubens] and ask, "Have you read my script yet?" Paul would say, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I haven't had the time." It turned out it was the script for Boyz n the Hood.

John started talking to me about it. I said, "Look, when it's ready, send it to me." About two years later, I got the script. I was really blown away by it. I turned the last page, and I was in tears. Once he got his financing together, there was another actor the studio was interested in playing my role, but John was really committed to me playing it. He went to bat for me. And once John started shooting the film, he approached it with the utmost confidence.

John's first language was the moving image. He talked in movie images. When he had an idea for a story, he would tell it to you in visual terms. It wasn't a language he acquired, it was his real language. I think he was born that way. John was just a visual creature.

Read more tributes below.


Kristy Swanson, Higher Learning

As quiet of a guy as he was, he wasn't that quiet. He was very communicative. If something wasn't working, he'd fix it, whether it was dialogue or an emotional choice or whatever it was. I could go up to him for anything. I could ask him anything. No matter how smart or how stupid the question was, he was there.
We had a week or two of cast rehearsals before filming and he called it "therapy sessions" — that was my favorite part of the experience. We literally sat on a soundstage in a big circle and we went around and talked about our characters so that we could get really into the belly of our characters and our backstory and how we all interact together within the story and how each separate storyline would interact.

A lot of it had to be cut because I think the director's cut was almost three and a half hours long. There were many, many storylines, there were so many layers, so they did have to cut a lot of it out. But it was incredibly powerful, and it was incredibly powerful to make.

He just was a team player and he made me feel welcome, he made me feel strong, he made me feel confident.


Omar Epps, Higher Learning

He was meticulous. There was a meticulousness to where the camera was, the choreography of things. And as a director, John knew how to push you. Not push your buttons but push you further to where you needed to be. He took different routes to do that with different actors. With Michael Rapaport, for instance, John sequestered him from the rest of the cast, for him to feel that loneliness that the character had.

For me, I had a different experience. He would just push and push, not to get under my personal skin, but to put me deeper into the skin of the character.

A version of this story appears in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.