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Interview: Samuel L. Jackson for "xXx: State of the Union"

By Paul Fischer Tuesday April 19th 2005 02:51PM
Samuel L. Jackson for "xXx: State of the Union"

Casually attired wearing one of his many trademark berets, Samuel L. Jackson is the first to admit that he often plays characters close to himself. In New York promoting the latest instalment in the XXX franchise, the 56-year old actor admits that "every character in some particular way has small elements of who you are, only because you have to use your experience, so you have to tap into something that is personal to make certain things work."

"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 as all my characters are. I'm kind of outspoken or there are moments when I need to emphasise something, 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," insists the actor.

But when it comes to his character in the latest Star Wars trilogy, the concluding episode of which finally unspools next month, this is a case where actor and character are far apart. "Mace Windu's a lot quieter than I am, a lot calmer and more analytical and thoughtful than Sam is, while Sam's reactionary," Jackson says, smilingly.

Jackson is one of the few Hollywood stars who can say they have been a part of movie folklore as part of George Lucas' final trilogy that he had begun over three decades earlier. As Episode III, the long awaited trilogy finale prepares for its launch, Jackson says that shooting the trilogy, has had its unique challenges, different to those presented to him in a film such as XXX, "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."

The actor says that working on Star Wars, has not only been cool, but part of "a wishful film factor" that has been with him much of the last thirty years, "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, which I was able to make that happen for myself."

Jackson doesn't concern himself with the endless criticisms that plagued episodes I and II, and responds to perceptions that the current trilogy is inferior to the original. "The people that don't like episode 1 are adults who were not adults when they saw episode 4 and if you ask any 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, about a kid and gives kids an opportunity to feel like their hero. 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 and bloody enough and will wrap up all those loose ends, so everybody will feel some sense of satisfaction thus 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."

Much has already been written about Jackson's climatic fight scene in Episode III, but laughs when asked if it's what fans will want to see. "I have no idea what these fans want to see, because Star Wars fans are kind of a different breed of people, so I really have no clue what they expect to see. I don't know, because from film to film, people have their favourite films and people have their favourite characters and their favourite moments. There are people who even write down Jedi on their job application as religion, so I don't know."

But in a career full of varied and treasured moments, Jackson concedes that Star Wars may ends up being one of his major legacies. "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, and 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 ended up making a lot of different kinds of movies."

Jackson, to, has continued to be as diverse in his choices as possible, not to concerned about making commercial choices. A self-confessed fan of action movies, Jackson had no qualms about stepping back into the firing line as Agent Augustus Gibbons in the new XXX adventure, State of the Union, this time starring Ice Cube in the title role. Jackson had initial concerns that his character would have little to do in the sequel, but that was far from the case. The actor says that he sees Gibbons "as the M character who's kind of running the show and in control, who gets to choose the XXX characters and makes sure he knows what's going on. 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, but 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." Jackson says that "It's fun for me to do action pictures and still get off on shooting guns and chasing people." Shooting a movie like XXX and Star Wars, naturally brings out the child in him. "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'. In these kinds of pictures, you shoot somebody, the chest explodes, they fall down, and so it's kinda good."

As for whether we will sim turn up in another XXX film, the actor is keeping his cards to his chest. "I guess we have to wait and see how much money this movie makes. It's all about that and nothing to do with me, but with how many people go and see a movie, and how much money the movie makes. If it makes enough money, XXX 3 is on the drawing board."

But before that, we will be seeing quite a lot of Sam Jackson in the coming months, from the action comedy The Man, with Eugene Levy, through to Flight 121, also known as Snakes on a Plane, which he is about to begin. "I like scary movies and the scariest thing you could think of is a crate load of poisonous snakes getting released into the atmosphere on a plane. It says everything about it. I play an FBI Agent transporting a witness to a trial, so the bad guy puts this crate load of poisonous snakes on a plane." Jackson is currently in the middle of shooting Freedomland, opposite Julianne Moore. "It's the story of a young mother who gets carjacked in the projects. Her kid is in the car and her brother's a cop in the next town so they descend on the projects. 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."

Samuel L. Jackson continues to enjoy the flurry of success that he has enjoyed for over a decade. 80 films on, and Jackson remains a true Hollywood survivor. Asked, given his success, that greatest change that has taken place in his life, the cynical actor merely remarks, "I've got a lot more money than I had when I was using."

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