tv Tavis Smiley PBS July 28, 2010 12:00am-12:30am PDT
tavis: good evening from los angeles. tonight, a conversation with laurence fishburne. he is about to bring his broadway production of "thurgood" to los angeles. this focuses on the life of the of the marshall. this will debut on july 7 in los angeles. please join us for this conversation with actor laurence fishburne right now. >> he needs extra help with his reading. >> yes. >> to everybody making a difference, you help all of us live better. >> nationwide insurance supports have a smiley -- tavis smiley.
we are glad to work with them to improve financial literacy, and economic empowerment one party at a time. >> and from contributions from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- tavis: we're always happy to have laurence fishburne on this program. the oscar-nominated actor continues on one of the most popular shows on television, "csi" and if you are lucky enough to be in the los angeles area, you can catch him on the brilliant play known as "thurgood" which runs from july 7 to august 8. and here is a scene.
>> the only way that we can understand this is the opposition to our position, is defined for some reason that negroes are inferior to all other human being. nobody will stand up and say that, because they would have to justify this. only one thing can justify continued segregation. and that is the determination that the people who were once held in slavery should be kept as close to that condition as as possible. and now is the time for the court to make it clear that this is not what the constitution of the united states stands for. tavis: you were studying that like you were looking for something. >> what were you looking for? tavis: i cannot tell you that. >> your as cantankerous as ever.
how have you been? it is good to see you. let's talk about what we were discussing off air, the moment that you came on the set. >> the elena kagan hearings. i have been upset about a couple of things. tavis: these republicans, many of them, have been attacking his legacy. i have stood all that i can stand. i cannot stand any more. the way that they have been treating thurgood marshall. the second thing is that for all that he did to get her in her 20's an opportunity, she has not been as aggressive with defending his legacy. have you seen any of this? >> i have been reading a lot of
his stuff, and my take on this is that the republicans are not aware of his history, his contributions, his writings and his rulings as a justice. they are ignorant of just how affective and -- lasting the changes are that he was responsible for creating in this country. and if they really were aware of the history, they would have to come away being very ashamed of what they are attempting to do. what they are attempting to do with his legacy, i do not think that they are succeeding at all. kagan would say that he does not need to be defended. and that his work is speaking for itself. tavis: that is very charitable on your part. if they were going after thurgood marshall the way that they were, i would be right
there and i would say that they are not going to do this. i am not nominated for the supreme court. >> justice marshall could trade body blows with anybody. i think that his legacy can more than stand up to these -- this is like shooting the mosquitos with an elephant gun. tavis: this kind of talk about thurgood marshall, does it do anything for the launching of this stage play? >> it is nice to have his name spoken. we were in washington just before we came here, performing for three weeks at the kennedy center, and this was a real triumph. we had a standing ovation every evening, and we had the supreme court justices, sotomaor, the president -- sotomayor, the
president, and any time that we talk about their good marshall, this is a good thing. -- the road to marshall -- marshall, this is a good thing. >> i saw you on broadway, and you had a great time there. what was the slight, playing him, in washington? >> i do not think that i will ever have as good of an experience as playing thurgood marshall as i did in washington. he went to school in washington and was born in baltimore, and he went to school at lincoln. the supreme court was right there. we actually have the opportunity to stand at the lectern in the supreme court, facing these justices, which is a very powerful thing. the airport in baltimore is named after him. we had a standing ovation every
evening. much of this, some of this was for my performance but i have to give credit where the credit is due. most of that is because of his legacy and his work. as a hometown person. tavis: there is no follow-up question here, i am just curious. you mentioned that certain justices came to see this, including sonia sotomayor. what about justice thomas? >> he was not there. tavis: where was i? [laughter] >> you were waiting for me to take you out. tavis: i was just asking. a little birdie told me that this show is even better now than when i saw this on broadway.
>> somebody said this to you? tavis: i cannot imagine this. >> this is certainly much deeper and much richer, because i had a couple of years to let this grow inside me, and having grown to washington, where all of this happened, has added something to this. the marshall family has graced me with their presence many times. and they have given me so much loved, and this has been enriching the performance. this is much deeper and i think that you will see this. tavis: what was it that drew you to this material? >> when i was reading the material, i was learning so much. i had no idea that, for example, he was arguing brown vs. the board of education.
i did not believe that he was the first african-american supreme court justice. and learning that he argued this, 32 cases before the supreme court, -- tavis: and he was the solicitor general, like kagan now. t>> andy and the team that charlie houston put together, to stop the legal segregation in this country, this was a team of them. systematically, they dismantled segregation, legalized segregation in this country over 20 years. this is 20 years of work that went into the results of brown vs. the board of education. this is astonishing. and that is the -- you thinking.
this is an incredible way to use the law. this is important for people to know about. and i thought, i can make some small contribution doing this. tavis: with this legacy that is as rich as his, how you go out bring this down to the time frame. basically, he will take a couple of -- he will take part of the civil rights movement. this is in respect to how they use the law. he brought them together in such a way that the history that you
are receiving is coming at you in such a personalized way, that this reflects the history of everyone in this country. tavis: i have asked you this in our private conversations. this is just mind-boggling to me, to watch you perform this and find out how you would resolve this. this is just 90 minutes. >> and this is a lot of dialogue. when we were in washington, i did an interview with someone who gave me a recording of justice marshall arguing before the supreme court in 1958. in the performance in the show, he argues before the supreme court in 1952 and he is interrupted 43 times. in 1958, he argues before the
supreme court again. he was arguing for 90 minutes and he was not interrupted three times. he was just doing what he was doing, as a lawyer. i do not know how much of what he was arguing was written down. we have a script that was written down and i have been practicing for three and a half years right now. if i was a musician, i would have to know about@ xthis and i use the music and i would also have to be able to play the music. this is just kind of like what i imagine that a musician does. tavis: i was pleasantly surprised when i came to see you. i saw that this was not just
about his legal prowess. i consider myself a decent student. and i learned so much about his personal life and his back story and i thought that this was making the play worked peripatetic >> that is why this is such -- i think that this is what was making the play workhors. >> what you get is the monumental storytelling. this man was a master storyteller. and every story had a lesson and a reason, and every story had someplace that they would take you. he was going to expose you to something, and he would get you to look at something in a different way. look at this. i will tell you this story and i will take you across the world.
and you will be looking at me and you will say, i did not know that you could have all of that. tavis: and he was very funny. >> he was hilarious, which is the other thing that i do not normally get to do. we have spent some time together and you know that i am funny. but he was really very funny. tavis: everyone remembers cowboy curtis. [laughter] tavis: about being funny and all of the various things that you have had the chance to play, how the situate this thus far in your body of work? >> i do not really know. there is a good chance that i will be able to grow with this piece, and i will be able to do this every three or four years, traveling to distant cities and
performing. tavis: and you really love this material that much? >> i think that this is that important and i am well matched to this, -- tavis: why do you think this? >> when your clothing is sitting here right, -- a fitting new -- fiting you' right? tavis: you wear it well. >> it is not going to lose signifigance in our lifetime. it won't lose that. it is what people need to know. it comes at a way that is so much fun. by the time the first 20 minutes goes by, people are sort of, i
think they are caught off-guard by the fun they are having. tavis: w we have known each othr a while. i have never regarded you as overly sentimental. i have to ask if there are certain sentiments, and certain emotions that are running through you. you get a chance to play this in washington and it just so happens that the president, the first african-american president, is in the off -- in the audience watching you. >> this was huge for me. we did the show in new york, when he was running for president in 2008. and we heard from the playwright that he may be attending a performance. and ultimately he did not,
because he was very busy. i was also told that he keeps a portrait of the of the marshall in his private office. -- thurgood marshall in his private office. and so, he becomes elected and this is terrific. all the feelings that all of us have about that in this country, regardless of your color. this shows a different kind of change in the american psyche. to be here in washington, for president obama and his wife, with the attorney general and his wife, i said to them, when i met them, you have inspired people in this country so much,
and i just wanted to do something that would be held full -- that would be helping to inspire you. the size of the responsibility that they have taken on, i cannot even imagine what this must be like. tavis: the ironic thing about thurgood marshall is that we should celebrate the fact that he said every race should be based by the best that they have produced. he is among the best that our people have ever given the world. this man and his accomplishments. on the other hand, what i feel good about is not so much the fact that he was black, but i celebrate the humanity that was at the epicenter. >> there was a gentleman at the show the other night, and he
said that when thurgood marshall retired, a reporter came to him to ask, do you believe that your service on the supreme court has been beneficial to black and brown americans. he said he believed his service had been a benefit to all americans. i think that is really who he was. tavis: i hope that they understand this when they see the play, if they have not. so how are you balancing this with your television programs? >> theater gives texture to the other work. i learned this from richards, who was the director of the august wilson cycle.
and he said, the theatrical work was giving texture to the fillfilm work. this is only going to get me more fired up and by the time i get back to "csi" i will be bubbling over and hopefully we will be able to apply that and it will be more exciting for people. tavis: you are somewhere it all the time. i am happy that you have said this. i have come across this the other day and i know -- i will see you in a couple of days to talk about this. i was wondering whether or not this career that you started when you were so young, has this turned out a way that you
thought? >> this is much better. this is much better. god is good to me. i have taken care of my gift and because of that, i feel that i have been continually and constantly blessed to get to do wonderful things. i get to play thurgood marshall at a time when there are a lot of people who do not know who he was, and what he did. i can educate them about this and i can also entertain them at the same time. and they will come away inspired. this is a gift, an incredible gift. tavis: you say that you have taken care of the gift and the instrument. >> i have tried not to be lazy. i have tried not to do the same
thing over and over. i have tried to be as interesting as i can without completely alienating my audience. i am trying to do things that are different. i do not do something that is going to be just something that will please the audience. i am not interested in doing something where i have the most people will come to see the movie at the same time with the biggest explosion. i am not interested in this. i am interested in touching people, reflecting the common humanity. tavis: there is a risk. this is a beautiful thing, but there is a risk in planning something different every time.
>> i do not think that this is a bad th that this is important, especially for an artist. i was watching the biography a couple of nights ago and his trajectory was about doing something and wanting to do something else. i have to do something else. i will not be happy and this will not be interesting. we would not have those last records. "amandula" and "tutu." tavis: some people pushed back on miles davis for taking this so far. >> thurgood marshall was not resting, either. he was trying to take this as far as he could. tavis: he is like laurence
fishburne. >> he is working. tavis: he is working. his name is lawrence fishburne and the play is "thurgood." try to see this thing. it is at the gavin playhouse. tavis: do you have my ticket? >> i have your ticket. tavis: that is the show. until next time, keep the faith. >> justice marshall, we have a request of a report on your condition and i will not release this without your permission. i ask, who is wanting this? and he says, president richard nixon. i tell him to write, "not yet" at the bottom. and he did it. in the reagan years, they wanted
me off. they said i was too old, too liberal. too tipsy. i tell them, i'd accept a lifetime appointment, and i want to die at 110. shot by a jealous husband. >> for more information, visit tavis smiley at border." >> his name is james and he needs help with reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance s
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