Samuel L. Jackson may love comic books, but thrust in the midst of the enormous, annual Comic Book Convention, Comic-Con, it was all business for the actor, there to quickly promote Snakes on a Plane, before getting out.
“Being here is like being at any other junket”, Jackson remarked, disappointed that he couldn’t even check out the plethora of comic book merchandise that is entrenched in San Diego’s huge convention centre. In Snakes on a Plane, Jackson plays an federal agent whose escort of a witness in protective custody goes bad on a flight over the pacific with the unleashing of a crate load of venomous snakes.
Jackson is unconcerned that internet-hyped horror film isn’t being screened to critics prior to its US release. “It doesn’t need to be screened, because the only thing that can happen is people will say bad things about it,” the actor says. “The people that love it, know what they are going to get when they come to the film, so here is no need for somebody going to see it going, ‘Oh, it is just people getting bit by snakes on a plane’. OK, but that’s what it is, it doesn’t need to be reviewed. its great; it’s horrible; the snakes look cheesy in it. Who cares? This is a 2006 Roger Corman movie, so let’s go see it.”
Jackson is equally angry that that many in the media and film industry even questioned Jackson’s decision to do a movie like this. “I’ve read the stuff that’s been written and it’s fine. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but it is a sad state of affairs when you want to tell me that an actor I shouldn’t do something like that. I am an actor – I do the kind of films that I want to do, and I enjoyed going to the movies and watching movies like that when I was a kid,” Jackson says, defiantly.
“Even down to last year when we got to Vancouver and all of a sudden we were seeing all the chairs and the scripts and everything that came out of Pacific Flight 121 – I was kind of like, ‘What is this?’ ‘Well, you know, we don’t want to give away too much.’. ‘Well, sorry, but I think you do. The whole point of this is, you know, Snakes on a Plane. Remember that other movie you guys did? Freddy versus Jason. Right – bad guy from one movie versus bad guy from another movie. Freddy versus Jason. Know exactly what you are going to get here. Alien versus Predator. OK? Snakes on a Plane,’ Jackson says, referring the studio’s decision at one point to even soften the film’s title.
Committed to the film when action director Ronny Yu was attached to direct it in earlier incarnation, Jackson stayed on board, knowing full well the kind of film he was about to star in. “It was what I thought it was and as long as it was what I thought it was going to be fine, which was the movie that I used to leave home for on Saturday afternoon and go and see so I could scream real loud, yell and freak my friends out and do stuff in. It was all about a Saturday afternoon excitement film.”
Jackson may be starring in a film about snakes on a plane, but the actor recalls it was his agents who had difficulty with their valuable client having very little interaction with any real snakes. “I walked into the snake room some days and just looked around at them, but other than that, we didn’t see them. My agent was insistent: ‘None of the snakes within twenty feet of Sam'”, Jackson recalls, laughingly. “In the beginning they were talking about having rattle-snakes that they had taken the venom sacks out of, but I am like, ‘Oh hell no – that don’t work for me’. I don’t have a fear of snakes or anything like that. I grew up in the country, so when I was a kid, when we saw a snake, the snake was in a lot more trouble than we were. We’d chase it, hopefully catch it and do things to it, but I handled them, no problem. I had snakes draped all over me the other day when I was doing a photo shoot.”
One of the unique facets of Snakes, was the influence of the Internet in beefing up the film’s tone, to give it a more adult, gory sensibility. The internet won, and the film’s US distributor spent an additional $1m to re-shoot key scenes so as to attain an R-rating. “Somebody woke up and said to themselves, ‘Oh wait a minute, it is a better film’. Well come on – it makes no sense to make a film like this, in this day and age, and shoot it like it is a 1960’s horror movie, where the snake strikes somebody off-screen. You come back and they are going, ‘Oh, oh my god’. Come on – you’ve got the capability to show snakes striking people, so do it. There are certain things that are requirements for horror films. If two people go into the bathroom to join the Mile High Club, you’ve got to see the girl’s breasts – that’s part of what people paid their money for. If you watch any film about kids who are out in the woods having sex, or kids who are in a haunted house having sex or kids who are in a car having sex, you’ve got to see a breast – that gratuitous breast before the killer shows up. It just so happens this is a snake, so you’ve got to see a snake on a tit.”
Jackson is somebody who takes his acting seriously, even when it involves snakes on a plane, arguing that as far as acting goes, approaching a character in a genre film is no different that playing any other character. “You take the situation seriously,” the actor explains thoughtfully, when describing his character. “I know who he is, I know his background as an FBI agent and a counter-FBI agent, why he is after this particular bad guy; what his experiences are; how he feels about snakes; and how he feels about his partner. All those different things come into play, but the most important thing is that when you do a film like this, you have poisonous snakes that people can identify, that they know as poisonous – mostly cobras and rattle-snakes so you introduce them to some exotic new things that they don’t know about that kill people even quicker, and you have great victims on the plane. You have people that audiences want to see dead, and people that they don’t want to see dead, and that they are interested in and, ‘I wonder how they are going to die’, so it’s that combination of things that make this movie great. It’s a real shame that a lot of people can’t seem to remember when they were kids and they went to a movie that didn’t necessarily have to be On the Waterfront, or Gone with the Wind. You went to a movie to see Frankenstein or The Wolf Man chase people, or big spiders jump out of stuff – it is a Saturday afternoon movie. I feel sorry for all those people who question my integrity for doing a film like this. “
And clearly, Jackson continues not to care, as he is next filming another horror film shooting in London, called 1408, opposite John Cusack. “It’s based on a Steven King novel directed by Mikael Håfström, so straight after Comic-Con, “I’ll be on a set in London, working.” Jackson is a workaholic, constantly going from one film to the next, arguing, even with his own success, “There aren’t many acting opportunities for actors – I take the ones that are out there for me and movies just happen to come right behind the other, so I do them. I do have that healthy actor fear of never working again once my project is over. I just tend to go to work, I like it. And it’s actually not a hard job.” Besides, he adds laughingly, “my wife is still shopping.”