Laurence Fishburne Opens Up About Rejecting ‘Pulp Fiction’ Over Tarantino’s Heroin Storyline

Fishburne also turned down "Do The Right Thing" because parts of Spike Lee's script "felt a little disingenuous" to him.
Laurence Fishburne and "Pulp Fiction"
Laurence Fishburne and "Pulp Fiction"
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP and Miramax

Quentin Tarantino stirred up buzz in January when he told The Ringer that he originally wrote the character of Jules Winnfield in “Pulp Fiction” for Laurence Fishburne. The director said Fishburne rejected the offer because the role of Jules wasn’t a leading man part, which left the door open for Samuel L. Jackson to be cast. In a recent interview with Vulture, Fishburne disputed Tarantino’s recollection of the events and revealed the real reason he passed on “Pulp Fiction” and a role that could have arguably been one of his most famous.

“I just had a problem with the way the heroin use was dealt with,” Fishburne said. “I just felt it was a little cavalier, and it was a little loose. I felt like it made heroin use attractive. For me, it’s not just my character. It’s, ‘What is the whole thing saying?’…It wasn’t about my character in ‘Pulp Fiction.’ It was about the way in which the heroin thing was delivered. And the whole fucking thing with the hypodermic and the adrenaline shot? No.”

For the record, Fishburne believes the role of Jules in “Pulp Fiction” is absolutely “a leading-man part” and that “Sam Jackson walks away with the movie.” The actor added, “Sam fucking sticks the movie in his pocket and walks away from it, walks into a fucking leading-man career. What are you talking about? It’s a great part.”

“It wasn’t about the part,” Fishburne continued. “It was about the totality of the thing, where I was like, ‘Why is it that the biggest, blackest, baddest motherfucker in the whole thing gets fucked in the ass by two country-ass motherfuckers? Explain me that.’ But when you talk to Ving [Rhames], he was like, ‘You know what, Fish? You have no idea how many cats have told me, “Thank you for doing that,”‘ and appreciated the fact that I was able to do that because some cats, that happens to them, and they’re still men. Just because you get raped, doesn’t make you any less a man.’ I wasn’t evolved enough to actually realize that, or to even think about it in those terms, but Ving was. Everything’s not for everybody.”

Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” was another role Fishburne passed on for similar reasons. “There are ways in which [Lee] takes creative license with ‘Do the Right Thing’ that just didn’t feel right to me,” he told Vulture. “If you have a business in the heart of the African American community — but you’re not African American but you’ve been there for generations — then you become a member of the family, which means you’re basically protected from anything that should happen.”

Fishburne added, “Because it was loosely based on the events that had happened in Howard Beach, I just felt that if that pizzeria existed in the Black community in Brooklyn, that pizzeria was part of the community, and so even if there was a riot and even if there was racial tension, that it would not have escalated to the point where they’d just burn down the pizza parlor. Why did they burn down the pizza parlor and not the Korean grocery market? It felt a little disingenuous to me.”

Head over to Vulture’s website to read Fishburne’s latest interview in its entirety.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.