Samuel L. Jackson Interview

Movieweb talks with Samuel L. Jackson about his new film, The Man

Samuel L. Jackson is one of the toughest actors in Hollywood. In his latest film, The Man, he's once again playing a tough Detroit special police agent.

But then enters Eugene Levy, a dental salesman who's in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eugene gets involved in an international gun deal that Sam has to get him out of.

We sat down with Sam about the film and why he'd ever let Eugene call him his bitch! Sam also talked about how he got his fashion sense. You might be very surprised at when he discovered his clothing taste:

How much fun was it using the cursing banter?

Samuel Jackson: No more than any other; it's language and language is something I like using. It's part of what I did in the theater all the time, it's rare in movies that you get to talk that much, so having conversations and being able to talk with someone is always a plus.

How was it between you and Eugene, with all his improv background?

Samuel Jackson: Because he had all his SCTV training, it's kind of like when I trained in the theater and you learn to work with characters and interact with people, and play off people. So, we're essentially coming from the same place and it makes the conversations easier and it makes it a lot more natural and we can give a lot more honesty that we don't have to think about.

How much of the film was the script and how much was Eugene's re-write?

Samuel Jackson: He had to do something that he felt comfortable doing. And in rehearsal, when you put flesh and bones on words on a page, things start to change because you embody them with different characterizations and background feel because at first, the writers didn't know who those actors were going to be anyway. The first day of rehearsal, Eugene had a whole Eugene version of the script.

What attracted you to this movie?

Samuel Jackson: I guess the fact that it was a comedy and I hadn't done one in a while, it was an action comedy, which is something I'm attracted to. I like to do action films and I like to laugh and I felt that would be great. I had Eugene in my mind as I was reading it. And when I met him, I said this script is great and he had no idea what I was talking about; I guess about a week later he had gotten the script and we ran into each other in London, we read it and was totally down for doing it.

He said you were really intimidating in the beginning –

Samuel Jackson: I tried to intimidate him every day. He said only in the beginning? (laughter) Damn!

How do you alleviate some actors fears or nervousness of working with you?

Samuel Jackson: I guess by letting them know I'm here to have a good time. The easiest way to have a good time with me is to do your job. And if you're ready to go and I'm ready to go, we'll laugh and have a good time. I don't stay in character all day long; when someone says ‘cut,' I'm back to being Sam talking about the game last night or where you're going to eat dinner or when you want to play golf, I don't live in character all day long. And I try to make this job as fun as I can make it because if it's not fun there's no reason to me doing it.

Is this the kind of movie that you do, the tough guy role?

Samuel Jackson: Movies fall into certain genre's; it's like saying ‘I won't be a cop again.' It means you won't be doing a movie about crime because movies tend to be about ‘who did it' or romantic comedy or it's a thriller or whatever. But if you're in a who-dunnit, you're either the guy who committed the crime or the guy who's trying to solve it. And you're a cop, FBI, private eye, or something and all those guys have their own sets of problems. Vann's got issues and other cops have their own issues and there are some cops who are just heroes, like Shaft. Like no matter what the issue is, when the smoke clears he's going to be standing there. So you deal with those issues and you go and do it and some guys are tough guys. I don't always play tough guys; everybody thinks that because those are the movies that they like and those are the movies that stick in their minds. There are other people who love Red Violin, there are other people who love A Time to Kill, people who love Changing Lanes, 187 – characters who weren't tough at all and are thinking. So you just do movies and people latch onto what they want to latch onto. Yeah, I play a lot of tough guys because I enjoy them; I do action films, action films involve tough guys. Somebody's gotta do it.

How do you like buddy movies? Are you going to continue them cause they seem to do well at the box office?

Samuel Jackson: I don't know, I've done a few of them. I did Die Hard with Bruce Willis and that did pretty well at the box office, so I don't mind buddy films. The part I did in Pulp Fiction, that's a buddy scene with John Travolta, we're buddies, we're doing his thing. You end up doing those things, because the film that I just did in New York (Freedomland), it's a drama, very dark, heavy kind of drama with Julianne Moore. It's not a buddy picture, but the majority of the film, I'm with her so you can it a buddy film, but they call it a ‘two-hander.' You do this thing where you're with this person all the time and you're having conversations with them, that's the person they see you with, but they don't call it a buddy picture because I'm with a woman. The Long Kiss Tonight, me and Geena Davis, it's a buddy picture, but no, it's a two-hander. So it depends on the sex of the character.

Do you have hats for every film you do?

Samuel Jackson: Yeah, I have them for the crew and then I keep a couple for myself.

Who chooses your hairstyle?

Samuel Jackson: Me! Well, between me, my hair dresser and make-up artist, we kind of decide what I should look like. And once we present that to the directors and the producers, they kind of mull it over. The smart ones say ‘ok' and the dumb ones argue with us.

What about for Black Snake Moan, do you have a hair style set for that one yet?

Samuel Jackson: Yeah, I have a whole other look for that; I was at the dentist yesterday.

You're going to have fake teeth, gold?

Samuel Jackson: All the guys that I've seen, I've been going back and forth to the Mississippi Delta and all these musicians I've seen, they all seem to have these blingin' grills.

Is Black Snake Moan a two-hander?

Samuel Jackson: More than likely, yeah, mostly.

Is it fun for your family to see you in all these different hair styles?

Samuel Jackson: I have no idea what's fun for them. (lots of laughter) My wife's kind of used to seeing me cause we came up together in the theater in college. So we used to sit in the mirror in college in New York and put stuff on and do our own make up; I was used to changing. She's used to seeing me in different guises. It's not unusual for her; my daughter got used to it so they're ok with it.

You just finished up three dramas, including Black Snake Moan. Are you going to be itching to do a comedy?

Samuel Jackson: I don't know. No I'm not actually. The film that I just read that I'm probably going to do is not comedy. But the movie I'm doing right now is kind of like a no-brainer. I don't want to say it that way, but it's pretty much what it is, it's a thriller. Snakes on a Plane, there's no mystery to that.

I hope they keep that title.

Samuel Jackson: We are, we're going back, it's not Flight 121. You either want to see this movie or you don't – Snakes on a Plane, common. You don't have to think about it, there's snakes, you go ‘Ah, Oh, Ah, Oh' and that's what I'm doing every day and I don't have to figure out the dramatic purpose of this. I'm going to do that with Black Snake, I've got enough of that coming. Six and a half weeks going ‘Ah, Ooh, Ah, Ooh, Ah, Oh' it's cool, awesome. So it's like a break for me. And then I get to be heavy.

So who do you play in Snakes on a Plane?

Samuel Jackson: An FBI agent; I'm an FBI agent transporting a witness from Hawaii to Los Angeles. And the kid witnessed a murder by this gangster, the gangster, who personally killed somebody, stupid gangster. The kid saw it and I'm transporting him to LA and over the middle of the ocean, this timed crate opens and there's 500 poisonous snakes in it and they get out all over the plane. And we can't go back, we've got to go forward and it's us battling snakes to LA.

You're always on the list of the best dressed men, is that something that you're up to? Is there someone who you like to follow because many people follow you?

Samuel Jackson: I've heard that. I just have a sense of style and my mom was a buyer for a clothing store when I was a kid, so she used to dress me as this Ivy League kid. I have this very classic way of dressing that I rebelled against when I got away from her. I had these torn up jeans and t-shirts and headbands and stuff so I have this classic style and I have this off beat sense of thing. Sometimes I mix the two so when I'm looking at things, I look at things that color that's eye catching or strikes my personality, but they also have a classic cut which makes an interesting sort of contrast. And strangely enough, designers tend to ask me if I like their stuff and if I do, I can have it.

Do you think the clothing can show your personality?

Samuel Jackson: Most definitely; clothing informs people a lot about who you are, how you feel about yourself, how you felt about yourself that day when you woke up. Especially when you're doing stuff like this and you want people to perceive you in a certain type of way. I tend to want to blend into a crowd most days, especially when I'm on location cause I don't have bodyguards, I walk around by myself. And because I walk around by myself, people tend to respect my space cause they feel that I'm trying to be by myself, that I'm trying to be ordinary. And that's pretty much true, I'm trying to blend in and be normal; I might have on something interesting, but it's not something I'm trying to draw attention to myself.

So how did you approach the filmmakers with the idea of the hydraulics on the car?

Samuel Jackson: You know, Vann's undercover most of the time in his work and so the things he has had to kind of reflect a certain life style. We had this argument for a while about the guns because the first gun deal was about $30, 000. I was like ‘What?' That's like $1 million dollars (in his best Dr. Evil impression) so he doesn't always deal with international gun smugglers. Sometimes it's gangs selling guns and he's gotta relate to those guys, he's gotta relate to Chinese gangsters, some Indian gangsters, to the international gun smugglers – guys who smuggle on every level. So he's got to look a certain way and that car informs people about the world he comes from and the kind of world he inhabits. And since his divorce, his clothes are in that car, if you noticed they're in the trunk. He doesn't have a house anymore; she got the house, that car is his possession. It's his radio, it's his living space; he wants that car to be all he can be and it's part of him.

Did you ever think a short, white, Jewish guy would call you his bitch?

Samuel Jackson: On screen, possibly. (lots of laughter) On screen, yes; that was one of the funniest things I read when I was reading that script. I knew that when that particular scene came up, it was going to be like ‘Ok.' People are going to be sitting there saying ‘Oh my gosh.' That can take you out of the picture in a certain way because I know a lot of people are sitting there saying ‘That's Samuel L. Jackson, he just called Samuel L. Jackson a bitch. How is he going to react to that?' And I had to deal with that and play with it in a certain kind of way and then out of no where, Eugene comes up and does ‘Who's my bitch!' (slapping his own face). And I was like, ‘Woh, we didn't rehearse that! Well, wait a minute.' And then I just finally got to the point where it was like ‘Well, if you're going to slap me like that, you might as well slap me on the ass to get me in the car just to cap it.' The scene works amazingly well, and it's like they put it on my website and another website and it took like two million hits in like 48 hours.

How is it to get two million hits on your website?

Samuel Jackson: It just means people like what I do and are interested in seeing it. It's always better to be liked than not.

It seems like every month I read you're doing a new film; when do you ever take a break?

Samuel Jackson: When I get on the plane to do the next film. Actually, everyone tends to think I'm a work-a-holic or whatever; and I just like to act. I act as much as I possibly can, but making a movie isn't like doing a play. You show up every day and you do it from beginning to end and you have to do it eight times a week. Sometimes I go to work and I work for an hour and I'm off and I might be off for the next four days. And if it's a place I've never been before, like I'm in Vancouver now and there's beautiful things to see like islands and mountains, you got great golf courses. So I'm on paid vacation, I've got per diem, I've got a great place to stay; why wouldn't I go to work, especially if I'm not working at home. If I'm going somewhere else that I don't live, they put me in a great place, they give me money to spend and I get days off.

Is Freedomland still coming out this year and have you seen it?

Samuel Jackson: Freedomland is going to be in limited release late in the year

What's Afrosamurai about and can you talk about it?

Samuel Jackson: Yeah, it's about an African samurai set in a kind of futuristic world. And this guy, he's the number two swordsman in the world and he's looking for the number one swordsman cause only the number two can challenge number one. But there's a lot of people between them and he's got to chop them. But number one also happened to kill his father.

The Man opens in theaters September 9th; it's rated PG-13. Snakes on a Plane and Black Snake Moan slither on the big screen in 2006; Afrosamurai will start shooting in 2006 and will hit theaters in 2007.