How Samuel L. Jackson Became His Own Genre
Before “The Mountaintop” opened on Broadway last fall, there were rumors that this fictional account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night before his assassination would present him as a flawed man, one who drinks and flirts with a motel maid. Kenny Leon, the director, told me recently, however, that he never would have had anything to do with something “that destroyed the iconic nature of Dr. King.” In fact, he said, when he first read the play, he realized that its innocently childlike King could be played only by “a sensitive actor bigger than life” — his friend Sam Jackson.
“Samuel L. Jackson will always be Samuel L. Jackson, no matter the role, but that is a good thing, as Bogart was always Bogart: something dark, intelligent, and barely restrained, always smoldering.”
Samuel L. Jackson, who is 63, has appeared in more than 100 films since 1972, and moviegoers would be hard-pressed to find in any of his roles someone who was innocently childlike. For the first part of his film career, his characters tended to appear in scripts as Gang Member, Drug Addict, Hold-Up Man. Even after his work in “Jungle Fever” earned Jackson a best supporting actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991 (an honor created for that performance) and his work as Jules Winnfield in “Pulp Fiction” three years later made him world-famous, at 46, Jackson’s roles, no matter how fleshed-out or nuanced, have been far from innocent. Still, even as Jules tossed off vulgarities and obscenities as offhandedly as he shot people, like so many benign terms of endearment, he displayed the greater part of Jackson’s success as an actor — his ability to imbue even his vilest characters, spouting the vilest words, with a touch of humor, intelligence and humanity.
Jules was the moral center of “Pulp Fiction,” Jackson told me recently, “because he carried himself like a professional.” The same can be said of Jackson as an actor. “Before Jules,” he went on, “my characters were just ‘The Negro’ who died on Page 30. Every script I read, ‘The Negro’ died on Page 30.” He thundered in character as Jules for a moment, repeating his point in saltier language, then returned to himself and said: “After Jules, I became the coolest [expletive] on the planet. Why? I have no clue. I’m not like Jules. It’s called being an actor.” READ MORE…….