Samuel L. Jackson’s Interview Is Real & Unfiltered…Just Like His Best Characters
On screen, Samuel L. Jackson often plays characters that speak their minds with little compromise. Away from the film, set, the Chattanooga, Tennessee native is no a stranger to voicing his opinions with a similar approach. The unfiltered, often uncensored actor is now 70 years old and is still working within the same industry he broke into during the 1980s.
Jackson has dozens of critically acclaimed roles under his belt and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. While he’s currently enjoying his praise for playing a young (by way of C.G.I.) Nick Fury in Captain Marvel, Jackson was shadowed and interviewed by Esquire‘s Carvell Wallace. Sam spoke at length about his upbringing, his views on Donald Trump, working with Quentin Tarantino, and overcoming addiction at the exact point his career soared.
The versatile actor recalls a diverse set of influences and experiences in his coming of age and collegiate period. “My class, ’66, was famously the first class of sort of street ni**as that they let in. It had to do with folks like Stokely Carmichael, who was in and out of there speaking. And I was radicalized from both ends. From the Black end with Stokely, [H. Rap Brown], and those guys, and the Vietnam vets, and I had an English professor who was driven to Morehouse on the magic bus with [One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest writer] Ken Kesey. And then that was when I started dropping acid, and hanging out with him, and finding out what was happening in Berkeley, and then the white parts of the world,” recalls Jackson. “My whole existence had been Black. I didn’t have a white teacher ’til I got to Morehouse.”
Notably, he pulled from his experience in Atlanta, Georgia for Spike Lee’s School Daze. Of the character “Leeds,” he says he witnessed real-life inspiration during his advanced education. “Those were the dudes that I hung out with when I got to Morehouse,” he recalls. “My mom dropped me off, and I saw a basketball court up the street. So I stopped in the beer store, bought a quart of beer, walked across, asked who was up next. And I balled with them, hung out with them that night, to the point that they didn’t know I went to Morehouse until they saw me at a dance.”
The actor admits that the first film where he was clean from drugs was Spike’s Jungle Fever. Released in 1991, the film marked a turning point for Jackson. “All those motherf*ckers at rehab were like, ‘You don’t need to do this movie, because you’re going to have triggers.’ . . . I was like, “Well, sh*t, if for no other reasons, first of all, where the f*ck are you going to get $40,000 in the next six weeks? And second of all, I will never pick up another drug, because I don’t want to see any one of you motherf*ckers ever again.’ I hated them. But that was their job. And I made it through that. So significantly, when ‘Gator’ gets killed at the end of that movie, I always look at it as the death of my…active addiction.”
Jackson’s filmography includes films and casts that have taken home Oscar gold (he was nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” in Pulp Fiction). That same resume includes films that in the eyes of some are not so decorated. When Jackson is told about actors who are picky about taking specific roles for “quality movies,” the actor snaps back, asking, “What’s a quality movie? What the f*ck is that?” He continues, “Quality movies are movies that make me happy, a movie I would’ve gone to see. I’m not trying to make people cry. I’m not trying to do the profound-storytelling thing. I was entertaining. I used to go to movies to forget my f*cking troubles. I used to go to movies to enjoy myself, to get out of my segregated f*cking life, to see what the world was like, to travel. I want people to come, smile, laugh, leave that movie going, ‘Man, that was awesome.'”
Throughout his career, Jackson has worked closely with Quentin Tarantino. That writer/director, who is white, has received criticism for the dialogue he has written and its use of the n-word. One of Tarantino’s critics has been Spike Lee, another director who Jackson has worked with closely. After defending Tarantino’s use of the n-word in the feature story, elaborating on his roles in banking commercials as of late, and commenting on Donald Trump, Sam Jackson ultimately airs out his entire character. When asked about his opinions alienating or antagonizing fans, Jackson enacts full-transparency.
“I know how many motherf*ckers hate me,” he says to the publication. “‘I’m never going to see a Sam Jackson movie again.’ F*ck I care? If you never went to another movie I did in my life, I’m not going to lose any money. I already cashed that check. F*ck you. Burn up my videotapes. I don’t give a f*ck. ‘You’re an actor. Stick to acting.’ ‘No, motherf*cker. I’m a human being that feels a certain way.’ And some of this sh*t does affect me, because if we don’t have health care, sh*t, and my relatives get sick, they’re going to call my rich ass. I want them to have healthcare. I want them to be able to take care of themselves. This is how I feel. And I count to one 100 some days before I hit ‘send,’ because I know how that sh*t is.”
As far as Sam’s retirement plans? He’s acting until he can’t do it any longer. “Michael Caine’s still acting, right?,” he tells Esquire. “It’s acting. It’s not like I’m digging a ditch. I go on set, do some sh*t. I go back and sit in my trailer for two hours watching TV, eat a sandwich, read. And I go back and do 10 more minutes and go sit down some more.”
Elsewhere in the Esquire feature, Sam Jackson explains why he refuses to do more than three takes of a scene. He discusses some of the impactful films of his youth, and why he feels greater anger with today’s Conservatism than the segregation he experienced as a child of the South.