XXX: State of the Union: An Interview with Samuel L. Jackson
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By Wilson Morales
Knowing as one of the hardest working actors in the business, Samuel L. Jackson is building on that compliment, with his third and fourth film of this year coming out. Earlier this year, he took "Coach Carter" to be number #1 at the box office and just a few months ago, he was back on the screen in a relatively small film, In My Country, with Juliette Binoche. Now, he's back in the sequel to a film that doesn't have its lead star, Vin Diesel, back. Jackson returns to "XXX: State of the Union" in the role of Augustus Givens and this time he's paired off with Ice Cube. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Jackson not only spoke about his role in the film, but he also gave us some insight to his character in the final installment of the Star Wars trilogy.
They've been saying that was the plan all along was to have revolving actors as XXX. Was that your idea, especially in the first movie or did you think you were doing a Vin Diesel franchise?
Jackson: I had no idea. It never occurred to me and I didn't care. I was a lot more worried about my character coming back.
Was that worry on page 35 or so?
Jackson: No, not really. In the first one there was no talk about anything happening to me. I was just kind of a control guy. When the second script showed up, I was a little bit concerned about, eh, what's this?
Why did you want to come back? What was the attraction coming back to this?
Jackson: I look at the character, like the M character (in the James Bond films) who's kind of running the show and in control and sort of gets to choose the XXX characters and makes sure he knows what's going on and in this particular script, there was a bigger reveal of who he was, where he came from, the fact that he's not just a bureaucrat, he's somewhat of a warrior himself. Often he's willing to step into the line of fire and do the things that he asks the other people to do. It's fun for me to do, action pictures. I still get off on shooting guns and chasing people.
Is that because it brings out the child in you? Is that why actors like doing that because it's the kid in you that comes out?
Jackson: Yeah, totally. It's part of stuff I did with my friends in the street. We had guns, we shot at each other, we chased each other but they always said "you missed me". These kinds of pictures, you shoot somebody, the chest explodes, they fall down. It's kinda good.
In this one you had a more prominent role. Is there going to be a number 3 and if there is, are you going to have a bigger part in it?
Jackson: Well, I guess we have to wait and see how much money this movie makes. It's all about that. Nothing to do with me. It has to do with how many people go and see a movie, how much money the movie makes. If it makes enough money, XXX 3 is on the drawing board.
Would you do it?
Who would you like to see play the next Ice?
Jackson: I don't care. I just want to be sure I'm in it.
What surprised you the most when you were with Cube?
Jackson: Nothing really. I've watched his evolution as an actor so I figured if he got into shape and did the training necessary to do all the stuff the script required him to do, then he would be able to pull it off. He has the right combination of street toughness and edge that a XXX character needs to make this thing work and he's anti-establishment enough in terms of what his music career has been that, you know, an audience will buy the fact that he's not just going to jump out and be a super-patriot immediately. As usual, we find a way or I guess Augustus Gibbons' major trait is knowing how to pick the right guy for the right job so that when that time comes, that person's willing to step across the line and go the extra mile and get the job done.
Was he attached when you signed on for a second?
So you didn't know who it was going to be?
Jackson: No, not at all. I just knew they were doing another XXX and my character was coming back. They didn't talk to me about who should be the next XXX or who he would be.
Is that your hair or a wig?
Jackson: It all depends; it all depends on how you want to say it. It's mine and it is a wig. I never grow my hair out anymore. I haven't grown my hair out since; last time I used my hair in a movie was Red Violin.
Do you have a certain regiment to prepare for these types of roles?
Jackson: What do you mean?
Go to the gym.
Jackson: I go to the gym anyway. Only specific training we, well I did for this particular film was Cube and I had to go through the firing range with some Seal guys and learn how they use weapons. Everybody has their own way of shooting a gun. So if you're doing an FBI movie you've got to go to the firing range with FBI guys. When we did SWAT, we went with the SWAT guys. This time we had to go with some Seals and learn how they did what they did. It's fun. You always go out and get to shoot live weapons, you shoot at targets. You see if you can actually hit things and you become proficient with a lot more weapons than you actually own at home. But if you come into contact with them while you're running around, at least you'll know what to do.
Is there a big difference on set working with Lee or with Rob (Cohen) in this movie. Any major differences as far as how you're working on set and making movie.
Jackson: Every director has their own different way of doing things. Lee, Lee is about a lot of the different set-ups and how things work and he does things in smaller pieces than Rob does. The general tone is kind of the same. You're doing an action picture so you're out there having fun and end up laughing a lot more than you thought you would. It's just a matter of how each director prepares the day's work. Lee does it in smaller pieces than Rob, that's all.
Did you add anything to the script or was it just straight from script?
Jackson: I didn't add anything. I just kinda showed up.
Did you really get to drive that car?
Jackson: Me? Yeah, a few times.
Was it cool?
Jackson: The GTL?
Jackson: Yeah, it's a very cool car. The coolest thing about it actually is the paint job. The rest of it is kinda fake but the paint job's like incredible.
It has changing colors.
Jackson: Yeah, depends on the light it's in or what day you walk up on it. It could be gold, green, purple, brown, bronze. It's about eight different colors. I don't know how he did that paint job. It's good though.
Did you add a bit of your personality to this film?
Jackson: Well you know, it's really difficult to say. I really can't talk about the number of people I've actually killed in my life so I can't say that, I can't speak on that part of my real life, but every character in some particular way has small elements of who you are only because you have to use your experience and you have to tap into something that is personal to make certain things work. So there's no way that I actually can make my characters shorter than I am so that's always me and I can change my voice and I can change the temper of it but it's still my voice. The attitudes and the way that they treat other people tend to be very different from the way that I would normally treat people. Or be the person that I am. I have a sort of quirky personality, in a way, and I'm kind of cynical in a way, and all my characters are. I'm kind of outspoken or there are moments when I need to emphasize something, I can be those characters that are very emphatic. But most times the way that a character approaches the particular life that's being displayed on screen has nothing to do with who I am. The closest I've come to being, I guess, myself on screen, is I think the Zeus character on Diehard, just because my specific job in that movie was to be an audience member on the inside of a Diehard movie. I was trying to react the way Sam would react to what John McLean does if I was sitting in the audience. So the audience members would go, "that's what I'd do ... I'd say that". So, not often.
How far removed then would you say you are from the character you played in Star Wars franchise? Seems to me that in that franchise you're quite different from what we normally see.
Jackson: Well Mace Windu's a lot quieter than I am. He's a lot calmer and he's a lot more analytical and thoughtful than Sam is. Sam's reactionary.
So was that franchise far more challenging to you as an actor for various reasons than doing something like this?
Jackson: Well, yeah, because the world is very different. It's a fantastical world full of people who have special abilities that you have to be a lot more omnipotent and less vulnerable than, say, a human being because they are. They see further, they have specific powers that allow them to get into people's heads in different kinds of ways. They are involved with characters who are from different particular planets and worlds more so than in the same world you are from and everybody's experience is different. Except for the Jedi which is a whole closed society. I'm not part of a closed, well, I don't know, screen actors are I guess.
The trailer basically has you in a fighting scene. Is it what fans expect to happen. Have you seen the fight scene yourself?
Jackson: No I haven't seen it.
Why do you think it's what fans would want to see?
Jackson: I don't know. I have no idea what these fans want to see. Star Wars fans are kind of a different breed of people. I really have no clue what they expect to see. I don't know because from film to film, people have their favorite films and people have their favorite characters. People have their favorite moments. There are people who write down Jedi on their job application as religion so I don't know.
Have you seen the version of yourself in a cartoon yet?
And do you think you'll have as much action in the next movie or not?
Jackson: He's a little faster than I am but yes, it's pretty much that action-filled.
Do you think the new trilogy holds up the first trilogy?
Jackson: Who are those people and what are they talking about? The people that don't like episode 1 are adults who were not adults when they saw episode 4 and if you ask any, what now, I guess 12 year old kid who was 7 or 6 when they saw the first one, who their favourite character was, they'd say Jar Jar Binks because the first movie is a kid's movie, it's about a kid and gives kids an opportunity to feel like their hero. It's a kiddie movie. The next movie's a bit more teenage, teenage love, kid's voice changes and he's in love with a girl and he's trying to figure it all out. People didn't like that one too much either but there was enough action in it to satisfy the people. Hopefully this one will be dark enough and bloody enough and w ill wrap up all those loose ends and everybody will feel some sense of satisfaction so that when they sit down to watch all 6 of them by the time George puts all of them out, they can watch them in any order they want to. I might have felt that way about the Ewok adventure. I didn't say that.
The new generation will redeem the first couple of movies?
Jackson: The new generation?
The generation that's grown up right now, 6 or 7 year olds ...
Jackson: Yeah. They'll have a home, an idea of how all this fits together and how they like them in terms of what the sequence is. For us, who were young adults when the first one came out, and we went through all the others. Some of the others I didn't like either but it was Star Wars you know. It's always going to be Star Wars. Years and years and years down the line, out of all the things that I've done, if they don't remember anything else I've done, that movie will be studied, or that particular series will be studied as a watershed moment in film making that kind of changed the way films got made, it changed the way films got marketed, it changed the way a lot of people approach to making movies about outer space and it brought a lot of people into the cinematic world to make different kinds of movies that they started out there but they ended up making a lot of different kinds of movies.
Is there a cool factor for you to ultimately say to yourself, I've been in the Star Wars franchise?
Jackson: A cool factor?
Jackson: There's a wishful film factor that's there because when I sat there in the first one watching it, all I wanted to know was how I could get into a movie like that and when are they holding auditions for the next one. Granted, it took me 30 years to figure it out but it's something that I wanted to do and the kind of movie that you watch and you wish you could be in and a lot of times that never happens. You see things and you want to be in them, you wish you could be in a movie like that. It's kind of like me wanting to be in a western. I haven't found one yet that I could do or one hadn't come my way that's good enough but I saw that and I felt that way about it. I was passionate enough about it that when the opportunity presented itself and I was able to do it, I did it. I feel good about that particular thing, that I was able to make that happen for myself.
Sam, your career and your body of work is the mark that a lot of young actors are working to get to that level now. Who are some of the ones to watch, actors that you can see follow in your footsteps.
Jackson: I have footsteps? Anthony Mackie, Idris Elba, wow, so many young actors out there. All of those guys were on like The Wire. They're fortunate that they have a television venue that allows them to do something that's real and honest and gives them a chance to explore, the stuff that will serve them well later on down the line, in terms of being able to create characters in another kind of way. I wish I'd had something like that.
Sam, you've got a few movies coming in - Freedomland, Flight 121 and Airforce Samuri. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
Jackson: Freedomland I'm shooting now. Flight 121 hasn't started yet. Let me see, Freedomland we're like two weeks into shooting the film, me and Julianne Moore. A story of a young mother who gets carjacked in the projects and her kid is in the car and her brother's a cop in the next town so they descend on the projects which I had to find a car and a kid. The brother and his police cohorts are jacking everybody in the projects and creating a hot racial atmosphere. So it's a pretty dark and crazy movie. Flight 121, aka Snakes on a Plane. I like scary movies. The scariest thing you could think of is a crate load of poisonous planes getting released into the atmosphere on a plane, poisonous snakes. It says everything about it. There it is.
Are you a passenger or a pilot?
Jackson: FBI Agent transporting a witness to a trial so the bad guy puts this crate load of poisonous snakes on a plane, they get released into the atmosphere.
Have you seen Dave Chapelle's impression of you? What do you think of that?
Jackson: I actually have a bottle of that beer at home.
You and Cube been a part of this new box office phenomena this year. How do you feel about that, being part of that thing?
Jackson: I don't know if we're starting a new thing. It just proved the fact that there's an audience for films that have an African-American theme and/or African-American stars on it. First of all, Coach Carter and Are We There Yet, Hitch, Diary, then Guess Who, then Beauty Shop. And it's just a validation of the fact that there's a huge movie-going audience out there that not only wants to see films that are about African-Americans but we are viable in a box office sort of way that crosses over and not just in African-Americans but in general audiences. It's about good stories, good films and people having a good time when they go to the movies and telling other people they do. Because the majority of people who went to the films don't read reviews because if you read reviews of all those films, you wouldn't have gone to see them.
You've made over 30 movies since Pulp Fiction. Are you going to take a break some time? When you add them altogether, you've actually made more box office than Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks. Pretty great isn't it?
Jackson: Yeah, it's alright.
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