Older Articles
Daily Variety
Special Report: Deauville Film Festival
August 28, 2000

By David S. Cohen
Related Story: "Chopsocky Hits the Spot for Jackson"
Samuel L. Jackson is as cool as cool gets. He looks cool, he acts cool, he appears in cool movies.
His first stage appearances, though, were not so cool. As a boy he was drafted into church pageants by his aunt — and hated it.

"I was always crying when she dragged me out of the house," remembered Jackson. "You should see some of the stuff she had me doing. I was the Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcracker Suite. She was also a dance teacher so I had to dance. I remember some cowboy and indian pageant where I was in a loin cloth with bells on my ankles, some big headdress on."

By contrast, Jackson's current role in "Shaft" finds him looking sleek and elegant in Armani. Director John Singleton told Variety that Jackson had the perfect sense of style for "Shaft."

"Sam brought what he's brought to every role, which is a really cool vibe," says Singleton. "Someone else would have played it for camp. Sam's not too serious, but he's not too jokey."

"This whole film was all based on getting a guy that had the right attitude."

Singleton that attitude is the key to Jackson's most memorable roles. "If you look at all of Sam's work, the roles that stand out the most are the ones where he has this cool, badass attitude."

"He's one of the few black actors that I think has a lot of soul, but he's really accessible to everybody. He's larger than life, but he's very accessible."

The 52 year-old Jackson has had quite a journey from church pageants to ultimate hipness. He graduated from Atlanta's Morehouse College after a brief expulsion for participating in a student protest. "Since then they’ve given me an award and my name’s in marble on campus now. People soon forget."

He became a respected New York stage actor in the 1980's. His breakthrough came in 1991, playing the crack-addicted Gator in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, but it was his turn as the philosophical hit man Jules in Pulp Fiction that made him a fan favorite.

Now not a day goes by without a fan hailing him with a line from Pulp Fiction. "Especially in airports," said Jackson. "If I’m going through an airport, I know somebody’s going to ask me ‘You know what they call a Quarter Pounder With Cheese in France?’"

Since then he has starred in a wide range of genres and styles, from hard action in "Deep Blue Sea" to dramas like "A Time to Kill." He rejoined his "Die Hard With a Vengeance" co-star, Bruce Willis, for the upcoming chiller "Unbreakable," from "Sixth Sense" director M. Knight Shyamalan.

"I’m always looking for characters that have a definite point of view. I do like characters that talk, but action things to me in another kind of way because I like playing those action games, being out there running around, playing cops and robbers and doing that kind of stuff."

He also enjoys working in more intimate projects. He starred in and produced "Eve's Bayou" for Kasi Lemmons and recently starred for her again in Caveman's Valentine, due out later this year. He will play a homeless man investigating a murder.

His personal interests are as eclectic as his roles. During his early days in New York, Jackson and his actor pals haunted Hong Kong 'chopsocky' triple features on 42nd Street. Today he is an Hong Kong movie expert and collector, and will soon star for veteran HK helmer Ronny Yu on the thriller "The 51st State."

He learned to dive filming "Sphere" and has taken it up as a hobby. He also has a passion for golf, which he discovered when he moved to Los Angeles.

"I’m an only child so I like solitary kinds of things to do, and no matter how many people you’re playing with, you’re playing golf by yourself. It’s you the ball and the golf course. It’s not a team sport. You can’t blame anybody else for your mistakes, and you take all the credit for the good things that happen."

He is currently in Australia, filming Star Wars Episode II, expanding his cameo role in "The Phantom Menace." For a longtime sci-fi fan like Jackson, though, just getting the chance to say "May the Force be with you" was a treat.

"It's very cool," he said.