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Moments In Movie History: Laurence Fishburne Lied About His Age To Get Character Role In Apocalypse Now, 1978.

ACTOR LAURENCE FISHBURNE LIED about his age when he auditioned for the character of ‘Clean’ in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1978 movie, Apocalypse Now. Then, when filming started, his father arrived. By Ben Arogundade. Mar.05.2021.

CLEAN CHARACTER: Actor Laurence Fishburne was cast in the character of ‘Clean’ in the 1978 movie, ‘Apocalypse Now’. He was 14 years old at the time, although he told director Francis Ford Coppola that he was 16.

ACTOR LAURENCE FISHBURNE was a 14-year-old virgin when he was cast in the character of young crewman, ‘Clean’, in the mythic, surreal Vietnam war epic, Apocalypse Now (1979).

“There was this one scene where my character had to talk about his love of Playboy magazine, and I was really bad because I didn't know what I was talking about,” Fishburne recalled. “I couldn't express what was at the core of the scene because I didn't have that life experience. I guess somewhere after about take 49, Martin Sheen came over and whispered in my ear: 'Did anyone ever tell you that you're a really good actor?' He gave me something I needed at that moment as a human being.”

From 1976 to 1978 Fishburne was on the set of director Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary shoot in the jungles of the Philippines, alongside world-class actors Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper, some of whom he’d never even heard of before he started filming. But it was Coppola who would have the biggest influence on his development in front of camera. “As an actor, Coppola trained me,” said Fishburne. “That was my training ground.”


Fishburne (known as “Fish” to his friends) was born in Augusta, Georgia, on July 30, 1961. His father, Laurence Fishburne II, was a juvenile corrections officer, while his mother Hattie was a schoolteacher. He was raised in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, New York City. He was just 10-years-old when he earned his first acting pay cheque in the off-Broadway play In My Many Names And Days. He then spent three years on the TV daytime soap, One Life To Live, after which he made his feature debut in the urban drama, Cornbread, Earl And Me (1975).

Like Jodie Foster and Ron Howard, Fishburne, who has never had any formal acting training, was one of the few actors of his generation who was thrust early into the limelight, without amassing any life experience — and who subsequently was not destroyed by it. “The hard part as a child actor is you don't get to be a child,” said Fishburne. “When I was working, I was often away from school, from my friends. In other words, I was away from my childhood.”


Thankfully, Fishburne’s mother was an ever-present force. She recognised his talent from an early age, and encouraged her young son to pursue an acting career, and would take him to auditions. “My mom was really astute in observing that I was very happy and at home when I was performing,” said Fishburne. “I feel fortunate that she was paying attention.”

There was one audition in particular which would change his life forever. At the age of 14 Fishburne, in an often repeated tale, lied about his age in order to cast for a role in the upcoming Apocalypse Now with director Francis Ford Coppola. Although he told Coppola and his production team that he was 16, they knew he wasn’t. “I think they knew,” Fishburne recalled recently on TV show George Tonight. “I don’t think I was fooling anybody.” In fact, Coppola actually intended for Fishburne to pass for 18, not 16, when he was hired.


Fishburne won the role of Clean, one of the young crewmen that travelled up river with Martin Sheen and the PT boat crew in search of the infamous Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. But after 18 months filming in the jungles of the Philippines, the environment, and the length of time on location, began to take its toll on Fishburne and his mother Hattie, who had come out with him, as chaperone and tutor. She became worried about his increasingly rebellious attitude, and so she called his father to join them in the Philippines.

“My dad was the disciplinarian — he was a corrections officer,” Fishburne said. “But by then I was 16, almost my full height [6 feet 1], and thought I was somebody. So I wasn't quite as afraid of him as I used to be. I think he was impressed, and just wanted to be there.”

Fishburne senior’s son had ventured into the jungle a talented unknown, and emerged both a man, and a movie star.

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Hi there. I am a London-based author and publisher, specialising in fiction, non-fiction and online journalism. Discover more about me and my latest projects, at Ben Arogundade bio.

APOCALYPSE NOW: THE REUNION: Actors Martin Sheen and Laurence Fishburne, and director Francis Ford Coppola, reunite at a special Hollywood screening of ‘Apocalypse Now Final Cut’, in August 2019 - 40 years after the movie that changed their lives. The film won numerous awards, including two Oscars, three Golden Globes and the 1979 Palme d'Or at Cannes



The number of people worldwide who Google the variants, “Laurence Fishburne Apocalypse Now, age, movie character”, each month.


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*All figures for “Laurence Fishburne & Apocalypse Now - According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.


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