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For Fishburne, ‘CSI’ is all about discovery

His character Ray Langston “is a guy who was brilliant in his world,” says Fishburne, “but here, he’s a little out of his depth. He’s got to learn, and he’s going to make mistakes.”
/ Source: The Associated Press

Laurence Fishburne says he and his new show are “a natural fit.”

Well, it isn’t exactly a new show, of course. Now in its ninth season, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” is one of TV’s most durable hits and a Thursday fixture at 9 p.m. EST. (This week’s episode features pop-singer sensation Taylor Swift as guest star.)

But recently this CBS drama finessed a tidy personnel transition, bidding farewell to its departing top dog, William Petersen, while phasing in Fishburne as Ray Langston, an academic turned rookie forensic investigator on the “CSI” team.

Langston “is a guy who was brilliant in his world,” says Fishburne, “but here, he’s a little out of his depth. He’s got to learn, and he’s going to make mistakes.”

Fishburne began shooting scenes early last fall as part of the ensemble that includes veterans Marg Helgenberger, George Eads, Eric Szmanda, Paul Guilfoyle, Robert David Hall, Wallace Langham and David Berman as well as Lauren Lee Smith, who, like him, signed on this season.

Fishburne had never seen “CSI” when he was approached to join the cast. But he says he immediately felt in synch with what he sums up as the series’ “tone,” without quite being able to elaborate on what that tone might be. He also approved of the musical theme and the band that performs it: “I’m a big Who fan.”

Born in Georgia and raised in Brooklyn, the actor has tackled scores of roles reaching back to his early teens, when he spent months in the Philippine jungle filming Frances Ford Coppola’s 1979 film “Apocalypse Now.” Since then his films have included “Mystic River,” the “Matrix” trilogy, “Boyz N the Hood,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (for which he got an Academy Award nomination portraying Ike Turner) and the 1995 version of “Othello.”

He was nominated for a Tony as Justice Thurgood Marshall in last season’s Broadway production of “Thurgood,” a one-man show about the first black to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

And past TV performances have included the HBO films “Miss Evers’ Boys” and “The Tuskegee Airmen,” as well as his indelible role (complete with Western drawl) two decades ago as Cowboy Curtis on the Saturday-morning series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

His string of credits has been impressive, and, for the most part uninterrupted, he notes, while acknowledging he had a few dry spells “when I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this? I should be doing something else!’ But the moment right after that, something wonderful has happened. Worried feelings still come. But after years of doing this, I’m practiced at letting go of them, and not worrying too much.”

‘I do look forward to the montage scenes’In every acting gig, Fishburne says he’s responsible for playing whatever character awaits him on the pages of his script. And he remains undisturbed that, with a TV series like “CSI,” his character’s last page looms beyond his reach, months or years in the future.

“The fact that I don’t know where Langston is headed isn’t a problem,” says Fishburne. “Sometimes I feel I have a handle on him, sometimes I feel like I don’t know what the (heck) I’m doing. But that’s like life, isn’t it? If I start looking for the last page, I’ll make myself craaazy!”

Then, having said that, he fixes his listener with a sly sidelong glance, confiding but commanding.

“I do look forward to the montage scenes,” he goes on, referring to the meditative laboratory sequences that unfold stripped of dialogue and overlaid with music.

“That’s one of the coolest things about ‘CSI,’ where members of the team are breaking things down, examining things, opening things up,” he says. “There’s something really captivating about watching someone try to put a puzzle together.”

“You know what it is?” he booms, as if the idea had never struck him before. “Almost every scene in ‘CSI’ is about making a discovery: ‘Look! Here’s something else we didn’t notice!”’

This makes him think of his daughter, Delilah, born to him and his second wife, actress Gina Torres (“Standoff,” “24”).

“She’s 2 years old,” says Fishburne, “and everything for her is a discovery. Everything! So that’s kind of how I’m trying to approach this role. Langston is like that. This is all a new world for him. So everything is about discovery!”