SAMUEL L. JACKSON did NOT have an easy ride to the top!!!
He was born SAMUEL LEROY JACKSON in WASHINGTON, D.C., abandoned by his alcoholic father, and raised by his Mother, Grandfather, and Grandmother in racially-segregated CHATTANOOGA, TN.
A strong student, musician and athlete, he attended Morehouse College, where he took a public-speaking class to tame a terrible stutter and reconnected with his childhood love of acting. He and fellow students took hostage an entire board of trustees meeting in a 1969 campus protest, which led to his being ejected from Morehouse but also introduced him to his future wife, LaTanya Richardson, a fellow actor. He moved to Harlem in 1976. While in New York, Jackson began to get work in off-Broadway productions, as a stand-in for Bill Cosby during rehearsals for The Cosby Show and in films for then-budding writer-director Spike Lee, including Do the Right Thing, School Daze and Mo’ Better Blues.
But there were problems. Jackson’s spiraling addictions to drugs and alcohol cost him jobs and eventually led to a life-changing 1990 intervention by his family. He worked constantly through the 1980s and early 1990s on TV series such as Law & Order and in small film roles including Gang Member No. 2 in Ragtime and Dream Blind Man in The Exorcist III. He won acting awards from the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Critics Circle for his heartbreaking turn as an addict in Jungle Fever, but playing Bible-quoting killer Jules Winnfield in the instant cult classic Pulp Fiction in 1994 gave him his first signature role. Now, at the age of 64, he finds himself as busy as ever, with six movies already completed in 2013.
Check out some of the highlights from the October 2013 PLAYBOY INTERVIEW: SAMUEL L. JACKSON:
PLAYBOY: You and Spike Lee have reunited for your new movie, Oldboy, Lee’s take on the South Korean–made 2003 vengeance hit. It’s been more than 20 years since you worked together on School Daze, Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever—movies that helped put you on the map. Why such a long gap?
JACKSON: Spike’s wife, Tonya, and my wife, LaTanya, have been good friends for a long time. My wife just acted in a TV film Tonya produced and wrote called The Watsons Go to Birmingham. So our wives would interact often, and we would all end up going to dinner together. Our relationship healed [from a public falling-out] over those dinners and conversations. He told me at dinner he was going to remake Oldboy, and I was like, “Can I be in it?”
PLAYBOY: Why did you want to be in that one in particular?
JACKSON: I watch the original Oldboy eight, nine times a year. Every time I meet someone who hasn’t seen it, I order it and give it to them. Spike told me that, aside from the leading role, I could have any part. I always wanted to be the crazy guy who runs the place where the main guy gets locked up and isolated.
PLAYBOY: Did you two get back into the groove quickly, or did it take some time?
JACKSON: Working with Spike was just like we’d never stopped. He’s very efficient, knows what he wants and doesn’t get in my way artistically—whatever I come with, I come with, and it’s cool
PLAYBOY: How did you and Josh Brolin, who plays the leading role, get along?
JACKSON: We all do our homework, so beforehand I asked T.L. [Tommy Lee Jones] about Josh because he tolerates no bullshit whatsoever, and he said, “Ah, great kid.” If T.L.’s down with you, you’re good with me. People who come to a movie set angry, bitter and giving people a hard time? It’s like, fuck, this is supposed to be a great place, a playground. Josh is good, and he understands the fun aspect of the job. When they say “Action,” you get serious. “Cut,” boom. There are a few actors who are like that who are really great, like Julianne Moore. When we were doing Freedomland, Julianne was standing there saying, “Sam, do you watch American Idol? Oh, it’s so great.” They call “Action!” and she’s crying her eyes out; they call “Cut!” and she comes right back over: “As I was saying, this American Idol thing….” She’s amazing.
PLAYBOY: Spike Lee said some pretty harsh things last year when you played the controversial role of a conniving house slave in Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s racially charged spaghetti Western. Lee complained about Tarantino’s 100-plus uses of the N word in the script, called the movie “disrespectful to my ancestors” and tweeted, “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western. It was a holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them.” Tarantino called Lee’s charges “ridiculous.” Did you hash out any of this while making Oldboy?
JACKSON: We didn’t have that conversation. One thing I’ve learned is that when I’m hired to do the job, that’s what I do. I did a film [Soul Men] with Bernie Mac that was directed by Spike’s cousin that I didn’t have such a great time doing. We didn’t talk about that either, other than my saying, “How’s he doing?” and Spike answering, “Oh, he’s fine. You guys didn’t get along so well, did you?” “No, we didn’t.” Boom—that was the end of it. One thing had nothing to do with the other. Part of the thing that fucks with all those people who criticize Quentin for being a “wigger”—even, I guess, Spike—is that they don’t take into account that Quentin’s mom used to go to work and leave him with this black guy downstairs who would take him to these blaxploitation movies. That’s his formative cinema life. He loves those movies. It’s part of him