- - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

While Laurence Fishburne never got to meet Nelson Mandela, he did see the human rights icon speak once in Atlanta.

“I saw him when he did his American tour, after he was released from prison,” the versatile actor said at the recent Television Critics Press Tour. “I got some nosebleed seats. … I wanted to say that I had seen him.”

Mr. Fishburne can be seen portraying the late South African legend, who spent 27 years in prison before becoming the country’s first post-apartheid — and first black — leader, in the BET miniseries “Madiba.” The series begins Wednesday, the first day of Black History Month.

While in pre-production for the six-hour miniseries, Mr. Fishburne, 55, visited the Ron Clark Academy, a private school for disadvantaged students, in Atlanta. Mr. Clark, A New York Times best-selling author and motivational coach, pioneered a unique teaching method that spread to both Harlem and North Carolina.

“Ron Clark and his partner had been taking children to South Africa for a number of years now, and they were preparing for their trip,” Mr. Fishburne said. “They gave me this great blessing, because as they were preparing, they were practicing the national anthem of South Africa.

“So they sang this to me, and that was where it really started.”

Mr. Fishburne, an Emmy Award-winner and Oscar nominee, spent two weeks in South Africa as part of the project, where he said he could very much feel Mandela’s immense effect on the area. Mr. Fishburne met there with Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s personal secretary during for the last 20 years of his life, and Ahmed Kathrada, who had spent time in jail with him.

“Because we were in [Johannesburg], we were shooting in a lot of locations where all of this history really happened,” Mr. Fishburne said, adding that the history is palpable given that apartheid ended in the country a little over two decades ago.

“You could feel sort of the energy of what transpired in that country,” Mr. Fishburne said. “It’s still very fresh.”

The dynamic actor, producer, playwright and director will also be seen in February on the big screen in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” which will reunite him with his “Matrix” co-star Keanu Reeves.

In the action film bowing Feb. 10, Mr. Fishburne plays a sinister assassin named The Bowery King.

“Keanu came up to the house. … I said, ‘Dude, John Wick — it was sick! It was killer! Ya gotta put me down!” Mr. Fishburne enthused at a recent press conference about re-teaming with Mr. Reeves.

While “Matrix” fans might see a similarity in the way the two actors interact in both the “Matrix” and “John Wick” universes, Mr. Fishburne noted these are indeed different characters.

“The only similarity may be that I might know something that [Mr. Reeves’ character] doesn’t know when we first encounter each other,” he said. “But, actually, he knows something that I don’t know.”

Laurence is the perfect Bowery King because he brings strength, nobility, command, vulnerability and humor to the role, plus he’s charismatic,” Mr. Reeves said in a statement. “He’s just a beautiful actor.”

Mr. Fishburne’s successful ABC comedy series, “Blackish,” on which he co-stars and co-executive produces, has been nominated for several NAACP Image Awards, including one for Mr. Fishburne in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. TV One will air the Image awards Feb. 11, the day after “John Wick: Chapter 2” opens.

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