Fishburne played Cowboy Curtis from 1986 to 1987, and went on to snag an Oscar nomination for his role in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It before starring in 1999’s The Matrix. But it’s Pee-Wee’s Playhouse that sticks with him as something, well, fun.
“[Cowboy Curtis has] given me the opportunity to give a lot of people a lot of joy, and make people smile and laugh,” Fishburne said, “which is not something that I often get to do in the work, because I mostly work in the dramatic part.” Fishburne currently plays a stoic FBI agent on NBC’s Hannibal—not the most humorous of shows. But he’s also recently put his comedy skills to good use as a recurring character on ABC sitcom Black-ish, where he plays a wise-cracking grandpa.
For those who want to revisit Fishburne’s cowboy days though, the complete Blu-ray collection of Pee-wee’s Playhouse—digitally re-mastered and including interviews with the cast—comes out Oct. 21.
“I always wanted to play a cowboy,” Fishburne says in an exclusive interview from the upcoming Pee-wee’s Playhouse Blu-ray collection. “I just didn’t get to do it the way I thought I would.” Indeed, Cowboy Curtis isn’t exactly John Wayne: He sings sappy songs, gets visibly nervous before a date, and is more interested in getting advice from cows than herding them.
When Laurence Fishburne pictured himself one day playing a cowboy onscreen, he pictured himself as the prototypical Western hero. Then he was cast as as the goofy Cowboy Curtis on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
It might sound like the stuff of Hollywood urban legends but it was a role on the kids’ TV show Pee-wee’s Playhouse as Cowboy Curtis that helped make award-winning actor Laurence Fishburne a star. Pee-wee’s Playhouse was by no means Fishburne’s first rodeo, of course. He’s been acting since he was a child and counts the 1975 film Cornbread, Earl And Me and a 12-episode stint on soap opera One Life To Live among his early credits.
Fishburne wasn’t the only young talent to get their start on Pee-wee’s Playhouse either. Actors including Sons Of Anarchy star Jimmy Smits, Russian Doll co-creator and star Natasha Lyonne and Golden Globe-winner S. Epatha Merkerson all had parts on the show. Behind the scenes, metalhead and future horror movie director Rob Zombie worked as a production assistant and future filmmaker John Singleton – then a student – worked as a security guard.
It was on the set of Pee-wee’s Playhouse that Laurence Fishburne and John Singleton met which would lead to the latter casting him in his Oscar-nominated directorial debut Boyz N The Hood. His role as a father raising his son in South Central Los Angeles won him critical acclaim and catapulted him to stardom. After that came Fishburne’s Academy Award-nominated turn as Ike Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It and his iconic role as Morpheus in The Matrix trilogy, followed by a three-year stint on CSI and his role as FBI agent Jack Crawford on Hannibal which won him a Saturn Award. The rest, as they say, is history but Laurence Fishburne has Pee-wee’s Playhouse to thanks – at least in part – for his successful career.
After lying about his age, a 14-year-old Laurence Fishburne landed a part in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now as young G.I. Tyrone ‘Mr. Clean’ Miller which led to roles in other Coppola films including Rumble Fish and The Cotton Club during the 1980s. Bit parts in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film The Color Purple and TV shows like Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice followed but his recurring role on Pee-wee’s Playhouse introduced Fishburne to a wider audience and helped put him on the map.
Way before his iconic role as Morpheus in The Matrix, Laurence Fishburne played a purple chaps-wearing cowboy on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Yes really.
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