Laurence Fishburne Almost Ruined Bruce Willis’ Best Movie

Laurence Fishburne was supposed to play Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus role in Die Hard with a Vengeance.

By Jessica Scott | Published

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Samuel L. Jackson was the perfect actor to play Zeus Carver in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Not only was he terrific in the role, but he had also just done Pulp Fiction with Bruce Willis the year before, making it a fun reunion for fans. So why was he not the director’s first choice? According to an interview on The Rewatchables, it actually goes back to Laurence Fishburne being Quentin Tarantino’s first choice for Jackson’s role in Pulp Fiction

Laurence Fishburne was initially interested in playing a role in Tarantino’s gritty crime film, but his representatives talked him out of it. Supposedly, his team believed that his taking on a supporting role in a film instead of the lead would make it harder for him to get the lead in other films down the line, in spite of his award-winning turns in other films like Boyz in the Hood and What’s Love Got to Do with It.

Then, when the Bruce Willis-led Die Hard 3 came around, the co-lead role was also supposed to go to Fishburne as well… only it didn’t either. In spite of the character of Zeus Carver being written specifically for him, Fishburne’s salary demands were too high for the studio to meet.

Perhaps it was the critical acclaim and accolades he received from the other projects he had worked on that made him feel as if he couldn’t accept the payment he was offered, but after a lot of failed negotiations, the Die Hard team had to move on. 

Thus, the search was on for a new Zeus Carver. While attending a screening of Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson caught the eye of producer Andy Vajna, and his mind was made up. It is possible that, in an alternate timeline in which Laurence Fishbourne actually took the role he was offered in Pulp Fiction, he may have been successful in convincing the team working on Bruce Willis’ third Die Hard film that he was worth the extra cash. But, alas, in our timeline, the world will never know.

We can only wonder what it would have been like to see Laurence Fishburne play Bruce Willis’ partner in the classic action flick, working as an electrician reluctantly helping the policeman stop a bomber from terrorizing the city.

Fans seem to thoroughly enjoy Samuel L. Jackson’s version of the character, though, with reviewer David Hinckley citing him as the reason the third film in the Die Hard franchise did so well. According to his review on Rotten Tomatoes: “Samuel L. Jackson ensures that Bruce Willis’ third stint as the ragged detective John McClane is a triumphant one.”

The story doesn’t end there, though. Laurence Fishburne may not have wanted to give in during salary negotiations, but he still didn’t want to give up the role. According to the People magazine archives, Laurence Fishburne sued Vajna’s production company for breach of a verbal contract he asserted that they had made. His legal team even went so far as to serve Bruce Willis with a summons at the premiere of Demi Moore’s movie, If These Walls Could Talk.

According to Laurence Fishburne, Bruce Willis was a witness to the meeting in which he was offered the part of Zeus. In response, Willis’ lawyers said the actor had “nothing to hide because he doesn’t know anything about this.” 

In the end, Vajna’s company, Cinergi, settled with Laurence Fishburne for a grand total of $750,000 – much less than his claimed damages of $1.75 million. Cinergi also promised him another $600,000 in the future, though, if they didn’t exercise their option on a play/screenplay written by the Matrix actor

Not a bad payout for someone who didn’t even end up becoming Bruce Willis’ partner in the movie!