Samuel Jackson on race, Trump and loving his job
New York — Samuel L. Jackson isn’t just in the movies. He IS the movies.
Does any other actor so fully embody the high-octane thrills, the colorful language, the sheer bigness of American movies? Jackson is, not coincidentally, typically ranked as the highest all-time box-office star with nearly $5 billion in North American ticket sales over his career. He’s a mainstay of Marvel, a veteran of both “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park,” and the dependable muse of Quentin Tarantino. He’s the bringer of “great vengeance and furious anger” and the ridder of snakes from planes.
Jackson — ever-changing, but always himself — is ubiquitous. He travels, always, with dozens of movies with him (John Woo and Asian films are especially beloved) and regularly goes to the movie theater, even to see his own movies. More than anyone else, Jackson makes being a movie star look fun.
That’s also true of his latest, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” an R-rated action-comedy in which he stars alongside Ryan Reynolds. Throughout hails of bullets and high-speed chases, the two trade countless foul-mouthed insults. Reynolds, at one point, accuses Jackson of ruining the word “motherf-----” — a trademark of the actor’s. Jackson also recorded a blues song for the film, which, fittingly, opens with an expletive.
Jackson recounted his love of that word on a stop in New York earlier this summer. New York is where the 68-year-old Jackson, a Tennessee native and graduate of Atlanta’s Morehouse College, got his start in theater. He’s looking for a play now, he says, except that “every time I mention it, my agent seems to find me another movie.”
AP: You must be one of the greatest cursers to ever live. What do you love about the word ‘motherf-----’?
Jackson: It’s a kind of all-encompassing word that describes a lot of different feelings and a lot of different things. It all depends on the inflection, the place in a particular sentence that allows someone to understand what you’re saying and how you feel about it. It’s very freeing in an interesting sort of way to relieve the pressure of the importance of something sometimes. You can elevate something with mother---- or you can deflate it with mother----. The word works in so many wonderful and amazing ways.
Wasn’t it also a word you used to help you get over stuttering as a young adult?
I still do, as you’ve probably noticed when I talk too fast. It was the release word. It was in the pin in the bubble.
Not everyone in Hollywood always looks like they’re enjoying themselves, but you do.
Yeah, I do. It’s one of those dream jobs. I always liked the movies, from the time I was a kid. I did a lot of pretending with my friends and I did plays and all this other stuff. It just kept going until I finally reached the point where I figured it was a viable occupation to have. Nobody ever said, “You can be an actor.” When I finally decided I was going to do it, it just became my obsession. I looked at Errol Flynn and John Wayne and those guys. It looked like fun, swinging from ship to ship, sword fighting.
You recently narrated the Oscar-nominated James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” Baldwin spoke about the effect of growing up seeing only white faces on the screen. Did you have that experience?
I was growing up in segregation, so I didn’t expect to go to the movies and see black people up on the screen. ... It’s just not what I expected. I guess growing up like Baldwin did in an inclusive society in New York, was very different. For me, everything was very separate. Even the movie theaters I was going to were all-black theaters. I went to a theater that was specifically black, in my neighborhood. My whole existence was black. I only encountered white people when I went downtown. Now when I did see Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte, I often questioned my mama about why he died all the time. Then when I started getting cast in something, I’d flip through the script and see what page I died on. I got it, at that point.
You’ll do movies with Raoul Peck and Spike Lee, but you generally seem to favor larger popcorn movies like “Kong: Skull Island” or “The Legend of Tarzan.”
When people say, “You do genre movies,” well, that’s what the movies were like when I was growing up. Yeah, sure, I like a drama. I like being angst-ridden sometimes. But most of the time I want to go to the movies and watch some stuff that makes me go, ‘Oh man!’ I want to leave the theater going, “That was awesome! That was great! Ahh!” That’s why people go to the movies and I want to be part of that. I’ve always wanted to be in a King Kong movie, so there I am, standing in front of King Kong. Yeah, so I make trivial choices. But it should be that. It should be fun to do. People talk about, “I can’t stand to watch myself on screen.” Well, get another job! You expect people to pay $12 or $15 to go and see you and you don’t want to see it? I don’t think so.
You’ve played golf with President Trump before. What did you think of him?
I didn’t spend enough time around him to decide if I really liked him or did not like him. He was just a guy on the golf course. He invited me to play at his place. I played with him at his place. I saw what kind of golfer he was. Golf’s a very moral game. You kind of police yourself out there, and he didn’t really police himself very well out there. Once he started to espouse his political opinion or his general opinion about the world, the state of the people who live in this particular country, based on that, not such a great person in my opinion.
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