Samuel Jackson’s Method

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Right now, as you are reading this, Samuel L. Jackson is on a yacht in the Mediterranean, perhaps standing on the fantail, whacking golf balls into the deep, deep blue.

“The golf balls are fish food, so they’re environmentally correct,” he said a few weeks ago, reassuringly. “And they fly great.”

Each year, Mr. Jackson and his wife, the actress LaTanya Richardson, take a month to sail the Italian and French Riviera with a few close friends and a crew of 19.

“We both get a chance to really just relax,” said one of those friends, Magic Johnson, calling in between clusters of meetings for his new job as president for basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers. “And if we want to hear the roar of the crowd, we get off the boat and walk around. It’s crazy to have both of us in Portofino. They don’t know who to start with.”

In the Living Room at the Peninsula hotel here, Mr. Jackson, 68, didn’t inspire that sort of commotion. Dressed for a workout in blinding all white — ball cap, T-shirt, shorts, sneakers — he ordered a lobster roll but declined the bread plate.

For decades, Mr. Jackson has been refining a delicate balance of working hard and hardly working. He is one of the highest-grossing box office stars ever, alongside Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman. His films include installments in the “Star Wars” and Marvel franchises, voice-overs in big-ticket animation, a political documentary, neo-kitsch action dramas and regular work in the ecosystems of Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.

“Sam, like myself, doesn’t suffer fools,” Spike Lee said. “You don’t want Sam to get in your face on the set.CreditPetra Collins for The New York Times

In “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a buddy romp due out this month, he plays, alongside a square Ryan Reynolds, Darius Kincaid, an assassin with a soft heart. Like Mr. Jackson, Darius is equally relentless about work and pleasure.

By this stage of his career, Mr. Jackson’s gestures are firmly ingrained in Hollywood’s master narrative. One of those gifts is fluency with the sort of language that can be printed in this newspaper generally only when associated with White House intrigue. (“I wish Nick Fury could curse, but he can’t,” he said about his Marvel character.)

So it is comforting that the first words Mr. Jackson speaks at the beginning of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” are something very close to “that’s mighty white of you,” salted with a profane modifier.

He improvised the line — the cursing, and also the racial needling; the film was originally written with Darius as a white Irishman. Mr. Jackson prefers to steer. He is meticulous about preparation and has a deep lack of empathy for colleagues who have foregone the same.

“Sam, like myself, doesn’t suffer fools,” Mr. Lee said. “You don’t want Sam to get in your face on the set.” He let out one of his signature exuberant howls. “Even myself, first thing in the morning on a shoot, I knock on the door: ‘Can I get you some breakfast? What do you need?’”

Mr. Jackson conceded, “I can be a hard taskmaster for some directors.” He is the boss — when he is on set, that is. The option to go golfing twice a week is written into all of his film contracts. And he is allergic to extra takes. “I’m at that point,” he said, “where I can say: ‘Uh, you know, that’s not going to be in the movie, right? We already got it, we got it when we did this, that and that. I’m not going to do that.’

~~~  READ ON  ~~~

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