Samuel L. Jackson is back, tougher, meaner and with a partner who is not quite on his wavelength. In The Man, the actor stars opposite Eugene Levy, a dental salesman mistaken for a gunrunner, who becomes an unwilling partner to Jackson’s no nonsense Federal agent. But as Jackson explained to Garth Franklin, he took it as seriously as anything else he takes on.
Question: Did you want to show a different color to you, or do you think this is an extension of many other characters you’ve done?
Jackson: I just wanted to do a comedy, I guess, because I hadn’t done one in a while and it was an interesting opportunity to meet Eugene and be in that particular space, because I like watching him on screen, and I loved watching him on SCTV. And just to kind of do something that wasn’t as heavy as the film that I’d done before or the film that I had to do next, and just kind of enjoy myself and have some fun and laugh every day.
Question: Is it frustrating to be the straight guy and not be able to do more comedic stuff?
Jackson: That would be fun if I read a script that had that in it, and I was able to get that job and do it, that would be great, but I know what my job is in this particular film, and I know that I have a sense of humor and there are things that I can do that are funny just because it’s what’s happening in the particular scene, and it’s not a joke and it’s not a Pratt fall, it’s just a look, it has to be what it is. I watched a lot of TV shows when I was growing up and watch a lot of comedians who had that deadpan stare, and it was an opportunity to use those things that I watched and enjoyed.
Question: How much adlibbing did you do on this?
Jackson: Actually not a lot, only because we had a great rehearsal period, we went through the script, Eugene rewrote the majority of it (gives small laugh) because that’s what he does, and as the characters came together and you put them up on their feet and put flesh on the words on a page, things do change and relationships change, so we fixed those things before we started to shoot. And if something spontaneous did happen on set in terms of how we reacted to each other in the car, we worked the next morning on figuring it out how that fits into what we planned to do already and just make it happen.
Question: What was it about this character that attracted you, especially if you had to change so much?
Jackson: Derrick Vann’s kind of a loner in the world, and he says he doesn’t trust anybody, he does things his way, he’s been burned in varies and sundry ways in his relationships and all of a sudden in the midst of that, he’s trying to solve a crime that somebody thinks he’s guilty of, or has a part in, and the way he wants to solve the crime gets kind of messed up because this guy gets in the way, and all of a sudden he has to use this guy as a tool and no matter how he tries to use him the guy kind of messes it up, so every time he thinks he’s got the plan right it goes off in another direction and he’s got to pull it back.
Question: How did you keep a straight face doing some of the scenes?
Jackson: Because I know what my job is. Actors spend a lot of time off-camera, the camera’s right here and you’re next to it while they’re shooting somebody else’s close-up, so I get to laugh a lot while that’s going on. Then when the camera’s on me I just kind of do my job. But it was kind of great to watch the evolution of both these guys. Andy is the kind of guy who in his wildest dreams would never meet somebody who even looked like Derrick Vann. I have a guy who’s with me who has a different set of values, and as we ride in this car together and we talk about how much we don’t like each other, and what’s wrong with you and what’s right with you, he actually starts to have an affect on Vann, especially in terms of Vann seeing him and seeing how perfect this guy’s family situation is, which is something that he claims he doesn’t care about, but he desperately wants. He desperately wants his daughter to love him; he probably still is in love with his ex-wife. It’s interesting that we kind of set up things, because I actually set up this whole thing about picking my daughter up at the concert and then having to hand her off to her stepfather. How difficult is that for somebody to do. I’ve never had to do it, but I’m sure it’s horrifying to have a father have to do that.
Question: Speaking of difficult, was the bitch scene –
Jackson: You know what, when I read it I knew how hilarious it would be and could be, and I know that audiences have this perception of me so that when it came time for me to have to say, ‘I’m his bitch,’ it was kind of like, how do I do that to make it work? I kind of have to swallow it and not want to do it, and Eugene had things that he wanted to do in the middle of it, and out of nowhere he just kind of starts going, (slaps his face) ‘Who’s my bitch?’ Whoa, wait a minute, hey, we didn’t rehearse that. And it kind of works, and once he did that I was like, ‘Well, you might as well smack me on the ass when I get in the car, and just cap it totally off.’ It was working so well the camera guys, they were doing hand-held, and they had to keep doing it because the camera (was shaking) because they couldn’t stop laughing. It’s actually pretty cool, in fact my webmaster told me that that scene is actually on my website and hers, and we took 2 million hits in 40 hours, which is kind of cool.
Question: Do you feel that you and Eugene complement each other?
Jackson: We’re from the same place actually, interestingly enough, because he did SCTV for so long, and I did theatre for so long in various theatre companies, we both learned how to develop characters and work in ensemble play in a very interesting sort of way, so that when we work we do know how to complement each other because it’s the same thing that we’ve always done, especially when you’re doing word play and it’s character to character, it’s great.
Question: What do you think our perception of you is and since you’ve played a number of cops, how do you decide how to play a particular cop?
Jackson: First question, your perception of me – I think people associate me more with the tough guy, heroic kind of fearless characters than the vulnerable characters that I play. So that’s what my perception is in terms of what people think of me generally, or when people talk to me on the street they say, ‘I love Shaft, I love Pulp Fiction, I love Long Kiss Goodnight,’ so it’s generally the action tough guys. There are different kinds of people who say, “I love the Red Violin,’ or ‘I love Changing Lanes,’ older people like Time to Kill, so the general perception of the wider audiences is the tough guy image, so that’s the one I’m referring to, which references the ‘I’m his bitch’ line, to be a really weird thing for them to hear me say. Cops – interestingly enough, movies tend to be about crime a lot, so you’re either the bad guy or you’re good guy. I play a bad guy sometimes because I like playing bad guys, but if you’re a good guy you’re a cop, a FBI agent, an ATF agent, Private Eye, you’re some kind of law enforcement person, so you end up doing that over and over and over in your career, as much as you say you want to play something else, you end up doing those guys. But all those guys have to have a different set of problems that inform who that character is and how they approach their work and the people that they work with. So we you can make them different because of that. It’s like I play a cop in Freedomland, the movie I did before this one with Julianne Moore, and he has a whole other set of problems, yes, he has a crime to solve, but he also has a problem with the people in the projects because the white cops from the next town think that some black kid from the projects hijacked his woman’s car, which is the crime that I’m trying to solve. Who hijacked her car, and her kid’s in the car, we’ve got to find her. So the cops come down on the projects and I grew up in those projects and I’ve been the projects protector, and all of a sudden people are getting beat down and smashed out of their apartments, (sounds like, ‘Lorenzo, what are you going to do?’). I’ve got to deal with them, and then the cops are saying, ‘Well, you take their side, then you’re not on our side,’ so it’s like I’ve got the Blue problem to deal with. And then I have my own personal problems, because my family’s kind of screwed up, I have a kid in prison, I have a kid who doesn’t talk to me, and I’ve got my own personal demons. So every cop has his own set of problems, like Vann has his own set of problems that he’s trying to deal with, so that’s how you make him different.
Question: Out of all the characters that you’ve played is there one that you enjoyed taking on the most – my favorite Sam Jackson character is Long Kiss Goodnight
Jackson: Actually, that’s my favorite character too, I’ve always wanted to play him again. I love that character, and we were hoping that that movie would be successful enough that we would end up doing a few of them, but that’s one of my favorite guys, just because he is kind of goofy and kind of heroic in a stupid kind of way, but a lot of fun, it was a very fun character for me to play.
Question: Is that frustrating to you, because I felt like the only reason that movie wasn’t more successful was because of its marketing.
Jackson: Totally because marketing, because it’s better than all those tough chick-flicks that they’ve put out since then, it’s way better than Charlie’s Angels, it’s way better than Lara Croft. It was an ass-kicking movie.
Question: This film has sequel written all over it too – would you like to play this character again?
Jackson: Yeah, Gene and I laughingly talk about that, but you know what that depends on, it depends on how much money the movie actually makes. If it makes enough money and it’s successfully enough, and people like it enough, sure, we’ll get to do it, because it’s set up perfectly for it, especially the fact that he has an outstanding warrant in Turkey, it’s kind of like, he gets snatched by Interpol and we get back, and we get to go to Turkey and mess with this thousand year old prayer rug, and he has some lamps and other stuff at his house in Milwaukee that he brought back that are actually valuable antiques too. There are lots of possibilities ther77e.
Question: How do you decide the look of the character – to have hair, and what kind of style and the whole scar thing?
Jackson: My make-up artists and my hairdresser, wig-sticker-oner, Robert, I’ll read the script and we all kind of decide – we ask each other, ‘How does he look, how does he look, how does he look to you?’ and we start talking about it. A lot of times, when we’re just out and we see hair styles, I’ll say to Robert, ‘Take a picture of that guy’s hair, because I like it and we may use that at some point.’ In The Negotiator, Robert’s sister is a hairdresser is a hairdresser also, so she was working on set one day and she had this red kind of knotty Afro and (I said), ‘That’s cool, that a picture of that.’ And then when we got to do The Negotiator I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, your sister’s hair.’ So we did that. So we just take pictures of varies and sundry hair styles. We like the fact Vann’s hair is a combination of a modern mini-dreadlock (sp?) of this guy we worked with in South Africa not long ago. I liked it , it was kind of like, ‘I can use that at some point.’ Occasionally, I make the decision that I want hair and I make the decision when I want none (?) my agents and managers and sometimes my publicist always say, ‘We just love the way you look so much, look like you.’ That’s boring to me, because I look like me every day. But they say, ‘You’re a movie star, look like a movie star,’ and then people tell you on the street, ‘You look so much better in person than you do on screen.’ What the hell is that? Is that a compliment? I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not. But that’s part of the decision, sometimes the producers don’t want me to have hair, and I have to fight with them, they definitely fight with me about scars on my face, all the time. But I think Vann – I wanted Vann to have this startling kind of look so that when Andy saw him it would be like, oh my God, he’d never encountered anybody that looks like Vann in his life, Here’s this big, black dude with scars on his face and earrings on his ear and he’s got all these tattoos on his body, which I have none of that stuff, so for me it’s like the movie is the biggest playground that I can alter myself in the world, and I do it because I think every human being has his own characteristics and if I can continue to do characters that look like me then I’m becoming like any other actor out there that you go to a movie, you have an expectation of who he is, and I think one of the things that people get off on when they come to my movie is seeing what I’m going to look like, and that’s good for me. I’m down with that.
Question: I need you to comment on this – I have personally corrected two journalists who want to maintain some level of controversy about the statement you made a couple of years ago about being an insurance policy for a film, where people are hiring rappers to be in it. How does that affect you?
Jackson: It doesn’t affect me actually, only because I actually come into contact with all these people that I’m supposedly in conflict with, we’re okay, it’s like this whole 50 Cent (sp?) thing, he calls me all the time and we talk on the phone. It’s just something that it’s easier to sell articles, magazines, whatever you sell, because there is conflict than there is in harmony, and I do feel like I’m an insurance policy, but not because of that, it’s the same thing if it’s some other actor, or an actor who’s not as well known, or an actor who is well known but, you know, come on, you give credibility to a story, they hire Morgan for the same reason, because they know there’s something solid that’s going to be there, that’s going to be based in reality and hopefully because we’re there it will raise the other actors abilities in another kind of way because they have to be there on screen whether it’s to be embarrassed or step up, and that’s just the honest truth about it. Yes, I have great skills, I worked a long time to develop these great skills, and when I go into a film I go into it in a studied manner and with a plan, and if you don’t have a plan it will show. So hopefully I will make those people better and make the story better because I’m there.
Question: What are you working on at that moment?
Jackson: I’m doing Snakes On A Plane right now (AKA Pacific Air 121) It’s slithery but it’s good, it’s fun. That’s another one of those fun kind of films where I just kind of go to work and I don’t have to think about what’s going on, I just have to worry about a snake being close to me and getting away from it. I finish that film Friday and next week I start Black Snake Moan.