Interview: Samuel L. Jackson

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Nobody stops to think that they live in these places because that’s the economic strata that they’re on. 80% of those people still go to work everyday and do the same things everybody else does. But when you go in there, you immediately think “Black,� it’s a high crime area, so the majority of people who live in there must be criminals. When you go in with that mindset, you tend to treat the people like they’re less than human.

One of the hardest working actors in Hollywood, Samuel L. Jackson reigns as the undisputed #1 movie champion since his films have reportedly grossed more money at the box office than any other actor in the history of the cinema.
With more than 100 credits to his name, the Oscar-nominated veteran (for Pulp Fiction) has appeared in such blockbusters as Star Wars: Episodes I, II & III, xXx I & II, Kill Bill 2, Shaft, Unbreakable, coming to America, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Jurassic Park, Menace II Society, Goodfellas, Sphere, The Incredibles, Coach Carter, SWAT, The Negotiator, Do the Right Thing, School Daze, Patriot Games, Jungle Fever and Rules of Engagement. Plus, he’s appeared in just as many well-received art flicks from Losing Isaiah to Eve’s Bayou to The Red Violin. In Freedomland, we find Sam playing a familiar character, an intense, in-your-face cop, here, out to crack the case of the carjacked kid.

BSN: You’ve played plenty of cops before, so I was wondering what made this character, Lorenzo, appealing?
SLJ: Yes, I’ve played a lot of different cops in a lot of different law enforcement agencies. Lorenzo is a 20-year vet, who, in my mind, or my back story, has a very real connection to this housing project. He grew up there, so he knows all those people. He’s been in their houses, grown up with some of their kids, even arrested some of them. And he has a real connection to his job, because he’s been on it for 20 years. All of a sudden he’s put in this position where they’re asking him if he’s going to be Black or blue? Despite the pressure, he’s got this victim that he’s got to handle in a specific kind of way to get to the truth of what’s going on.

BSN: Was he as complex a character in the original script as the guy we see on screen?
SLJ: In prior derivations of the script, Lorenzo didn’t have all those things to do. So, all of a sudden, it seemed like a very appealing kind of challenge for me the actor to get into.

BSN: Did it help to have a novel to draw on?
SLJ: I read the book about six years ago, and I kind of forgot about it. I read it the first time the script came around. It was actually a lot more helpful to have Calvin Hart, a cop, as my template. He was also my technical advisor on Shaft. This time, I kinda got to go to Jersey City with him, and hang around, and watch him interact with other cops, people in the projects, and see what it means to be him. People call him “Big Daddy� and he’s this larger-than-life hero to a lot of people.

BSN: Why do you think the sort of racist round-up by the police depicted in the movie occurs in the projects?
SLJ: When a crime happens in an area like that, the immediate thought is that somebody Black did it because Black people live there. Nobody stops to think that they live in these places because that’s the economic strata that they’re on. 80% of those people still go to work everyday and do the same things everybody else does. But when you go in there, you immediately think “Black,� it’s a high crime area, so the majority of people who live in there must be criminals. When you go in with that mindset, you tend to treat the people like they’re less than human. The people then tend to push back, and then you push a little bit more. So, it doesn’t take a lot to set off a spark like that riot that happens in the film.

BSN: Why riot in your own neighborhood?
SLJ: When the riots happened in L.A., they didn’t go to Beverly Hills to trash Rodeo Drive. They trashed their own neighborhoods. It’s one of those tragedies that we always see in riot situations, where the only thing that they can lash out against is the stuff that’s right there in their own communities. They destroy the very things that help them survive in their own community. There is a level of futility in that.

BSN: How was it working with your wife [LaTanya Richardson] again?
SLJ: It was fun to be in a scene again with her. We used to do plays together all the time. We hadn’t really worked together since Losing Isaiah [1995]. That was kind of early on in both of our cinematic careers. Things have changed a little bit since then. [chuckles] That was the time when she was the more experienced person, because she’d been acting since she was a child. For her to come on this particular set was sort of like a culture shock. She had an idea, I guess, about how that all works, because she was in U.S. Marshals with Tommy Lee Jones, and Wesley [Snipes] and all those guys. And Wesley had his little village full of trailers and people. I don’t know what she expected when she got on set with me, but her trailer was very different from mine. The treatment on set and off set is very different for number one as opposed to number whatever.

BSN: Did you share some of your perks with her?
SLJ: Occasionally, I let her ride in my car from trailer land to set. [laughs]

BSN: Have you been making appearances lately?
SLJ: I know that my Actor’s Studio interview is on this month, and other “This is Samuel L. Jackson’s Life� stuff. And there’s a big Samuel L. Jackson Film festival on Starz or somewhere. Those kind of things are happening, but I haven’t made any plans to do any specific “It’s Black History Month, listen to me talk� kind of things.

BSN: What’s up next for you?
SLJ: I’m about to start a film called “Home of the Brave� about soldiers coming home from Iraq, and civil readjustment, and how difficult that is.

BSN: What interested you in this?
SLJ: It’s timely. I’ve been flying a lot recently, so I run into a lot of kids who are either on R&R, or on their way to Iraq. I had an interesting conversation with this 19 year-old girl named Deja Drew. She’s an information specialist. I asked her, “What does that mean?� She said, “I go to people’s houses in Iraq, and I talk to them about what we’re trying to do there.� And I said, “So, you must speak Arabic.� She said, “No, I have an interpreter who translates what I’m saying.� And I asked, “You really trust that interpreter?� She says, “Well, I have to.� And then I’ve met other guys who have been wounded or are going back again, and the interaction with these soldiers caused me to have an interest. They all know who I am and are fans, but they’re kids! I am yet to meet one that’s over 23. Yet they’re full-time warriors. And the war, and killing people, and seeing people die around them is having a very profound effect on them, and on how they are when they come back home. Sometimes they’re gone so long that, when they come back, their jobs are gone that they were supposed to be able to get back. Or their girlfriends or wives are estranged. All kinds of stuff is going on, but we don’t address that in a very real kind of way. Hopefully, this film will make people aware of it, because a lot of us are untouched and unaffected by it.

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