Under the Radar

Laurence Fishburne Joins the National Memorial Day Concert as Co-Host for 2017

Laurence Fishburne will be filling in for Gary Sinise as co-host of theNational Memorial Day Concert from Washington, DC. PBS will present its 28th annual broadcast of the event on Sunday May 28 at 8pm ET. Fishburne is appearing alongside returning co-host Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise will be presenting a special WWII tribute during the program.

There will also be appearances by General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), Renée Fleming, Vanessa Williams, Auli’i Cravalho, Scotty McCreery, Five For Fighting, John Ortiz, Christopher Jackson, Ana Ortiz, Ronan Tynan, Russell Watson, Maestro Jack Everly and the National Symphony Orchestra.

The concert will also be rebroadcast immediately after its live airing at 9:30pm ET. In addition, the concert will be live-streamed on Facebook Live and at www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert and available as PBS Video on Demand for a limited time, May 28 to June 10, 2017.

Fishburne has enjoyed a long and storied career. He was cast in as Tyrone Miller in Apocalypse Now at age fourteen and spent two years filming that epic in the Phillippines.  Fishburne did voiceover work for Ken Burns' The Civil War documentary, starred for three seasons on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and won everlasting legend status as Morpheus in The Matrix movies. He talked to us about how he got involved with the concert and an upcoming military role in a movie based on a novel that's the sequel to The Last Detail.

How did you get involved with the concert?

Joe Mantegna and I are friends and we've been friends for a long time. A couple years back he extended an invitation to me to come and participate in the concert.

It was really moving. I read a piece that Abraham Lincoln read years and years ago, something called The Last Full Measure. It was just really a very moving experience for me. So that’s how I got involved.

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These days, it seems like a lot of people have confused politics with support for the country and patriotism. Do you see this event as a time for everyone to put differences aside?

Well, yeah. That should be the intention, irrespective of how you might feel about whatever conflict is going on or whatever administration is sitting in the White House or what their policies are. The fact of the matter is that people in the military are making huge sacrifices to protect us and defend us and keep us safe. So that, I think, is something that everyone can agree to show some level of appreciation for.

You’ve had a lot of projects happening. You had "Mandiba," the Nelson Mandela miniseries on BET, you had a great spot in "John Wick 2," you’ve got your job on "Black-ish." And you’re appearing in director Richard Linklater's semi-sequel to the classic military movie "The Last Detail."

We shot Last Flag Flying in the fall of 2016, so that’s probably gonna come out sometime this year; I'm not sure when. Although it's based on the book, which is a sequel to the first book that inspired The Last Detail, we've had to change and modify some things. Obviously none of us can really be Jack Nicholson or Randy Quaid. So they’ve modified it a little bit. It is essentially based on the book, but it's not really a direct sequel to the film.

The sequel novel deals with our contemporary wars.

It's definitely that. That kind of story remains intact. What’s different is character's names and the branches of the service that they're in is different. It's not three sailors anymore. Bryan Cranston and I play Marines and Steve Carell plays a guy who was a Navy Corpsman.

The three of you are playing guys who are from another era who are dealing with what's going on now with our contemporary wars. As you're doing this Memorial Day Concert, what differences do you see between the past and the present in how the veterans are handling things?

From what I understand, the men and women returning from places like Afghanistan and Iraq are -- some of them, I'm sure, are doing well, but I also know that a lot of them are really, really struggling with depression. I know that there's a very high suicide rate amongst the veterans who are returning from those wars.

That’s very sad. I guess you could compare it to some of the people who returned from Vietnam and the service that they’ve had, but war is a traumatic experience and it's very difficult to know really what to say about it, unless you’ve been through it.

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November is Military Family Appreciation Month