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February 2006
Freedomland: An Interview with Samuel L. Jackson

Freedomland: An Interview with Samuel L. Jackson

By Wilson Morales

After appearing 5 major studio films last year (Coach Carter, In My Country, XXX: State of the Union, Star WarsI: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith, and The Man), Samuel L. Jackson continues to dazzled the film industry with not only his hard work, but with the roles he takes. In his latest film, "Freedomland", Jackson plays Lorenzo Council, a veteran police detective who is assigned to the case of Brenda Martin, a white woman from the neighborhood, who claims to have been carjacked in the housing project where Martin is beloved and a respected figure. The film is also the first time that Jackson has worked along with his with LaTanya Richardson Jackson since they did theater many years ago. Jackson was recently honored in LA for his work with a hand and footprint ceremony at Graumann's Chinese Theater. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Jackson talks about his character in "Freedomland", working with his wife again, and his upcoming film projects, which includes "Black Snake Moan".

Your character is a police detective in "Freedomland" whose main beat is to keep the peace at the local housing project. Did you ever experience what it's like to live in a low-income housing project?

Samuel L. Jackson: I lived in a house all my life but I had relatives who lived in the projects in Tennessee. I spent time in and out of projects when I was in Moorehouse College in Atlanta which sits in the middle of some projects so I interacted with the guys who lived in there. When I got to New York I lived in Harlem and there were huge projects all around and I spent time in Cabrini Green (projects) in Chicago so I know what housing projects are.

Did you witness racial profiling of black residents by the police?

SLJ: When a crime happens in an area like that the immediate thought is somebody black did it because black people live there. Nobody stops to think that they live in these places because that's the economic stratum that they're in but 80% of those people do go to work every day and do the same things that everybody else does. When you go in there (to these housing projects) you immediately think black and it's a high crime area so the majority of people that live in there are criminals. When you go in with that mind-set you tend to treat the people less than human and the people tend to push (back) a little bit more. It doesn't take a lot to set off a spark like a riot (that happens in the film where a black resident who lives in the projects is accused of carjacking and kidnapping Julianne Moore's child)

Why do you think residents trash their own homes in a riot instead of getting back at the upper class neighborhood that accused them?

SLJ: When the (Rodney King) riots happened in L.A. they didn't go to Beverly Hills to trash Rodeo Drive; they trashed their own neighborhoods. It's one of those tragedies that we see in riot situations where the only thing they can lash out against is the stuff that's right there in their own communities even though they think they are businesses that are white-owned so there is a level of futility there.

Despite the serious subject matter of "Freedomland" was it a fun set?

SLJ: I tend to see movie sets as a fun playground. Interestingly enough (co-star) Julianne (Moore) is almost like a mirror image of me. When we got through with the rehearsal process and getting to the set Julianne and I could stand around and talk about baseball, basketball and her kids. At the time she was really caught up in American Idol and she was watching it. She was giving her critique, 'Beau was so good tonight.' We had such a great time.

What was it like working with your wife LaTanya Richardson with whom you have a scene with in "Freedomland"?

SLJ: We hadn't really worked together since Losing Isaiah. That was kind of early on in both or our cinematic careers and things have changed a little bit since then. That was the time she was the more experienced person in acting because she'd been acting since she was a child. As time has gone on I have kind of done a little bit more in different places so for her to come onto a set was sort of like a culture shock. She had an idea of how that all worked because she was in "U.S. Marshalls" with Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley (Snipes) had his little village full of trailers and people. But when she got on set with me I don't know what she expected when she got to her trailer but it was very different from mine. The treatment on set and off set is very different for number 'one' as opposed to number 'whatever'. Occasionally I let her ride in my car from the trailer to the set! You got to keep them in their place though; you can't let them get used to that. (laughs) It was fun to be in a scene again with her. She was in my room when we were on location (for Freedomland) and she ended up staying with me so she'd go, 'you want to run lines?' I'd go, 'no I don't!' so we work differently.

What was the hand and footprint ceremony at Graumann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles like?

SLJ: It's kind of cool because somebody is pressing down on your hands to make sure you get a good impression (in the cement). You're putting your hands down and you can see the names of other people in front of you and around you as you're doing it. It gave me a great sense of pride and speechlessness to know that I was right alongside Hollywood icons like James Cagney. Even more interesting than that I think I'm like the seventh African American to do it so it's pretty important. Being able to put my hands and feet in cement at Graumann's was kind of surreal. I'm always saying, 'I'm not a movie star I'm an actor. I just happen to be an actor who's very popular. I made some films and I made some money.' I don't think I need an Academy Award to validate the things that I've done but the hands and feet ceremony was one of the things you watched when you were growing up and the kind of people who were doing it represented what Hollywood was in the largeness of your popularity and Hollywood stardom. That's a more elite kind of club than the Academy Award club. It makes you admit to yourself, 'OK maybe I am a movie star.'

Are you being honored for Black History month?

SLJ: My Actors Studio (on the US Bravo network) interview (with James Lipton) is on this month. They're bringing out all the 'This is Samuel L. Jackson's life stuff' this month. There's a big Samuel L. Jackson film festival on (US Network) Starz this month. Those kinds of things are happening but I haven't made any plans to talk just because it's Black History Month.

Next month you begin "Home of The Brave" about soldiers returning home from Iraq and how they try to live normal lives. Why did this project interest you?

SLJ: I've been flying a lot recently and I run into kids who are either on R&R (rest and relaxation) or on their way to Iraq. All these kids either know who I am or they're fans. I have yet to meet one who is over 23 (years old). These are kids who joined the National Guard to get to college and were weekend warriors but now they're full-time warriors. The war and killing people and seeing people around them dying is having a very profound affect on them and how they come back home. We don't address what they come home to like there's no job or their girlfriend or wives are estranged. This film The Home of The Brave will make people aware of it more so than people who have kids that are going through it. There are a lot of us that are untouched by it except for the fact that we know somebody who has somebody who sent somebody (to Iraq).

What did you learn about bluesmen for your upcoming film "Black Snake Moan"?

SLJ: I'm a bigger fan now of the blues. I spent a lot of time with the guys in the Delta (in Mississippi). I had to learn to play guitar so I spent a lot of time with these old guys who taught me some interesting guitar licks. I actually got to play and sing with guys like Big Jack Johnson so it was very cool. The guys I met are stars in their little areas because they still have juke joints where they take all the furniture out of their house on the weekends and invite people in and charge them 10 dollars and they got their little three man band. It was interesting being down there; it was great.

Was the area you shot in Memphis, Tennessee affected by Hurricane Katrina?

SLJ: Most of the bluesmen were OK because they're survivors and know how to take care of themselves. Most of the people that I saw in Memphis came out of the Mississippi Delta; we didn't get a lot of people from Louisiana. But further down in the Mississippi Delta there were a lot of people affected. I ran into people in restaurants (in the Mississippi Delta) who were just kind of there and taking care of their kids. I would see people in these restaurants and give them (the restaurant owner) a lot of money and say, 'make sure these people get fed and don't charge them for their meals' and just kind of go about my business. That's the kind of thing I can do that lets you know you're doing something that makes some sense to people. I would hand people money in a parking lot because I saw them with their kids looking lost.

Why do you like to work so much?

SLJ: I like my job. If I had my way I'd do film, television, theater. It just so happens my agents and managers think I should continue to do films. There's such a finite time that you get to do this. Eventually the phone stops ringing and the next new guy comes along. Hopefully I'll be like Michael Caine and I'll find roles that fit what I can do in my age range. I actually grew up in a house full of people that went to work every day. When I was a kid someone in my house was going to work every day and I think that's what adults do, go to work. I happen to have a cool job. I can actually go to work and go back to bed and nobody cares. I have a bed in my dressing room.

What would you be your fantasy television series?

SLJ: I like Law & Order and CSI. I did Law & Order before I left New York when it was just one Law & Order (without the spin-offs). I like The Wire and The Sopranos and Deadwood. If I had my choice I'd find my way to be on those shows because I like them. My fantasy television show would be a cross with Have Gun Will Travel with CSI and Deadwood. In (1957 series) Have Gun Will Travel I used to really love (professional gunfighter) Mr. Paladin until I got older and tried to figure out how long would it actually take for him in a stagecoach to get from San Francisco to Ohio to help somebody once he saw their ad in the paper (in response to his business card he would leave soliciting his aid). I figured it would be about six months later.

You worked with director Lee Tamahori in XXX: State of the Union. What do you think will happen to his career since he was arrested for soliciting in drag, no less?

SLJ: It does pretty much nothing to his career. Nobody got hurt and that's the important thing. Guys are guys and people are people. If "Brokeback Mountain" can be the best movie of the year then that means Lee (Tamahori) can continue to direct as long as he wants to.

FREEDOMLAND opens on February 17th, 2006


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