The following article appeared in the August 14, 2006 issue of Time Magazine
The following article appeared in the March 2006 issue of Premiere Magazine
This top grossing actor has strict code
Samuel Jackson sees his stardom as artistic capital, something he's unwilling to have frittered away.
The Los Angeles Times
When Sam Jackson was making "Coach Carter," in which he played a high school basketball coach who locked his team out of the gym until the players got their grades in order, he had a grueling scene where he had to shoot a three-page speech that was one of the big moments in the film. Producer Mike Tollin remembers checking in on Jackson to see how he was doing.
"Sam just smiled and told me, 'Man, no worries,' " Tollin recalls. " 'I'm working with my favorite actor tonight. Me.' That's classic Sam. It wasn't said in an arrogant way at all. If there were ever a guy who was comfortable in his own skin, it's Sam Jackson."
Jackson movies are like streetcars. If you miss one, there'll be another one along soon. Once he was in rehab for a nasty coke habit; his addictions now are work and golf. By his count, he's been in 90 or so movies in a three-decade career. His latest, which opens this weekend, is "Freedomland," in which he plays a police detective trying to solve a messy child abduction case that has sparked a racial uproar in the projects that Jackson's character patrols. It is also his fifth major film in the past 13 months, a stretch that's seen him play everything from a crafty spymaster in "XXX: State of the Union" to a gruff Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent in "The Man" to Mace Windu in "Stars Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."
After meeting him, first on the "Freedomland" set and more recently for an afternoon coffee in Beverly Hills, I have a pretty good idea why Jackson is so often cast as a figure of authority. Tall and still sinewy at age 57, with some gray creeping into his goatee, he is intensely disciplined and purposeful, a combination that has made him much in demand as an actor, though his perfectionism has its prickly side, especially for actors or filmmakers not as devoted to their work as Jackson.
Much has been made of the fact that Jackson is the highest-grossing movie actor of all time. His films have made roughly $3.5 billion, a figure buoyed by his presence in three "Star Wars" installments, "The Incredibles," "XXX," "Shaft," "Pulp Fiction," as well as four Spike Lee movies, including "Jungle Fever," the 1991 film that featured his breakout performance as a crazed crack addict — a role that seems even more astounding when you learn that he took it straight out of rehab.
"He's a movie star in the same way as Gene Hackman — there's just no one else like him," says New Line production chief Toby Emmerich, who hired Jackson to star in "Snakes on a Plane," the studio's big upcoming summer movie. "He's such a pro. He's never late, doesn't bring a posse. He's just a guy you can depend on."
What makes Jackson's career trajectory more compelling than that of Harrison Ford, the man he usurped as king of the grosses, is that after becoming a star, he's remained a serious actor, regularly cutting his salary (roughly $10 million) to do parts in small films that matter to him. He certainly took a pay cut to be in "Freedomland," which exploits his streetwise swagger but digs deeper, showing a man whose loyalties are divided between a cop's search for the truth and his role as guardian of a downtrodden housing project.
Even though "Freedomland" was a much-admired script, adapted by Richard Price from his novel, it languished for a number of years. As Price explains, "When your lead actor is black, you've really shrunk your talent pool. There are just three or four guys the studios want to hire."
One is Jackson, but he passed on the script — twice. "I ran from this movie for about five years," he admits, saying early versions of Price's script portrayed the cop as a "facilitator." Jackson found Price's later rewrites more enticing.
"There was a beating heart inside this cop," he says. "When I go into the projects, I'm trapped in the middle of these opposing forces and I have to decide — do I go tough or do I go gentle? In the black community, we're used to black cops treating black people worse so they can prove to their fellow officers they're not going easy on people. But these are the projects where this cop grew up, so everything is more complicated. Worrying about this woman's missing kid makes this guy see how he hasn't been a responsible father himself."
Having heard that Jackson has been rough on filmmakers who weren't prepared, Joe Roth, who directed the film, assured Jackson that he was no slacker. "I told him I'd be the first on the set in the morning and the last to leave at night," Roth says.
As someone who labored in relative obscurity for years, perfecting his craft in theater and TV — he was well into his 40s before he had his first leading role in a major film — Jackson sees his stardom as artistic capital, something he's unwilling to have frittered away by a disorganized director or a hapless costar. On one film, Jackson grew so frustrated working with an actor who muffed lines and changed dialogue that he marched over to the actor's trailer and delivered a stern lecture, though I imagine a lecture by Jackson is more like a dressing-down by a Marine drill instructor.
"I don't suffer fools lightly," Jackson says. "There's no reason to settle for mediocrity. It's why I loved working with ['Freedomland' costar] Julianne Moore. Not having to worry about the actor on the other side allows you to let go emotionally. I never felt like, 'Man, I wish I'd said something to the director about getting someone to focus on the scene.' "
What does Jackson do when he feels something needs to be said? "I'll start by talking to the script supervisor, maybe then the director. But if no one does anything, then I'll go knock on their trailer door and say, 'We're actually trying to accomplish something in this scene, and what you're doing isn't what we'd planned to do, is it?' "
Jackson is just as blunt with directors. He was especially frustrated working with F. Gary Gray on "The Negotiator" and Thomas Carter on "Coach Carter," saying they were not well organized or prepared. "People should come in every day ready to work, not confused about what they want to do or mistreating the crew by overshooting because they don't know what they want," he says.
In contrast to his experience, Jackson points out that "a lot of directors have only done five or six films. So who's spent more time on a movie set? If I say, 'I'm not going to do that shot,' it's my way of telling them, 'I know this [shot] isn't going to be in the movie, so don't waste three hours of our time trying to get it.' " (Gray and Carter didn't return calls for comment.)
The director Jackson admires most is Quentin Tarantino. "He's honest," the actor says. "He gives you a shot list and you know what your workday would be. There's no deviation, no bright ideas that he came up with while you were gone."
Having conquered the chaos of addiction, Jackson relishes order and expects his peers on a film set to share his rigorous work ethic. "He's a little bit like Michael Jordan," Roth says. "He's so good that he gets frustrated with people who don't give 110%, like he does."
Most of Jackson's run-ins can be traced back to this unswerving need for respect for having paid dues. Even though Spike Lee helped make Jackson a star, the two men had a falling-out when Lee started work on 1992's "Malcolm X." Jackson was insulted, first that Lee asked him to audition for a part, second that he wanted him to work for scale when Lee, as Jackson tartly puts it, "had a house in the Hamptons and was paying himself a lot of different salaries" for various jobs on the film.
When Jackson got a $75,000 offer at the same time for a part in "White Sands," he thought it was too good to turn down. "I'd never heard that number with my name attached to it." Not doing "Malcolm X" was "a matter of principle. Spike could afford to pay me more and instead he wanted me to work for nothing." Today he says, "Spike and I are OK. I'd work with him — he just hasn't written a part for me yet."
There have been plenty of other dust-ups, including some harsh words that Jackson had for rappers getting starring roles in movies. He says Ice Cube earned his respect when they worked together on "State of the Union," but he was unimpressed by other hip-hop figures' work ethic. "I've been on sets where the hip-hop guys had a call for 6 a.m. and showed up at 10 a.m. There wasn't enough respect for what we're doing, which is more than putting on a costume and opening your mouth." Jackson won't accept second billing to a rapper, saying "I'd be doing a disservice to every other actor out there, struggling to find a way into the business."
Jackson struggled himself, but he insists that he never felt any bitterness. "I just worried about my craft," he says softly. "You do the jobs you're supposed to do and if you're in the right place at the right time, the right thing will happen. You get found when it's time for you to be found."
The following article appeared in the March 28, 2005 issue of People Magazine
In the Future with Samuel L. Jackson
Source: Edward Douglas
There is no question that Samuel L. Jackson is the busiest actor working in Hollywood these days, something proven quite adequately by the nearly thirty films he has made in the last ten years. Things haven't let up for the actor in 2005, as Jackson kicked the year off with the true-life basketball drama Coach Carter, followed by a role in John (Deliverance) Boorman's In My Country, a drama set in post-Apartheid South Africa. Next week, Jackson reprises his role as Augustus Gibbons in XXX: State of the Union, a sequel to the 2002 Vin Diesel hit, only this time pairing him with Ice Cube as new agent Darius Stone.
Obviously, the Sam Jackson movie that people are anxiously awaiting is Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, the third and last part in the George Lucas prequels, in which Jackson will be reprising his role as jedi Mace Windu. While promoting XXX, Jackson talked about how Mace compared to his own personality. "Well, Mace Windu is a lot quieter than I am," he told ComingSoon.net. "He's a lot calmer and he's a lot more analytical and thoughtful then Sam is. Sam's reactionary. The jedi is a closed society, and I'm not part of a... well, maybe the Screen Actors' Guild." (Read More...)
The following article appeared in the April 1, 2005 edition of The Washington Post
The following article appeared in the July 2003 issue of Biography Magazine.