Samuel L. Jackson, 'Django Unchained' Star, On M. Night Shyamalan, 'Star Wars' & Responding To Film Criticism

12/19/2012 09:19 am ET | Updated Dec 19, 2012
  • Mike Ryan Senior Entertainment Writer, The Huffington Post

Samuel L. Jackson does not mince his words. At all. After spending 20 minutes in a room with the actor, who reunites with "Pulp Fiction" director Quentin Tarantino in this month's "Django Unchained," I now know exactly how he feels about the lack of awards recognition (so far) for his role in the movie, about M. Night Shyamalan's decision not to make a sequel to Jackson's 2000 supernatural thriller "Unbreakable," about the criticism he endured after attacking movie reviewer A.O. Scott of The New York Times over Twitter, and a whole lot more besides.

In "Django Unchained." Jackson plays Stephen, the "Dick Cheney," as he puts it, of a slavery-era plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Stephen is a house slave, but, this being a Samuel L. Jackson character, he's not exactly subservient. The night before we spoke, Jackson had appeared on "Saturday Night Live" and stirred up some controversy by uttering at least one (or maybe two) un-bleeped vulgarity. And by the time we met, he'd done a full day of interviews -- I was his last -- so it's fair to assume that he was very tired.

Samuel L. Jackson may be the most energetic tired person I've ever met.

[Samuel L. Jackson] Is this the light at the end of this tunnel?

[Mike Ryan] Yes. That's me. At least I hope. Also, you've had an interesting 24 hours ...
Sorta have.

I agree with your tweet that there was obviously a timing issue that seemed off during your apperance on "SNL."
Um, yeah.

It made for good television.
I was expecting Kenan to ... "bullshhhh." I guess I could have done it myself. But I thought he was going to talk over me.

And it didn't sound like you pronounced the "k" [at the end of the other expletive].
No.

It was obvious that the timing was off.
[Smiles] I'm pretty good with that.

I enjoyed you quite a bit in this movie.
Thank you.

You've had to have heard some whispers that you "steal" the movie.
Apparently not, because the Golden Globes didn't think so. I like the fact that people like it.

You get to play funny and sinister.
Well, that's part of his charade.

Why is there a charade?
Well, because to other people coming to the plantation and other white people that have been to see Calvin, he can't have an uppity, smart-ass Negro running his plantation. Which is what I do. Calvin runs mandingo fights and runs that whore house -- I run the plantation.

But most of the time you're playing a guy who is pretending to be not as smart.
Then I hear things, on the plantation. I know what's going on. He's a cranky old man! Nobody knows how sinister he really is. I refer to him now as the Dick Cheney of Candyland. You know, he's the power behind the throne. The actual power.

You've worked with Quentin Tarantino a few times now. How has he changed as a director between "Pulp Fiction" and "Django Unchained"?
Not at all. He's always had this encyclopedic knowledge of film. He's always known what he wants his film to look like and what each scene should be. And he comes with that every time. He's always done that. He can describe every film he's done as another film. He can tell us, "Well, this shot is a tracking shot that was in 'The Bridge Over River Kwai' and I'm trying to combine that with this shot that was a cut-in from Alfred Hitchcock's duh duh duh."

Is that surprising the first time you work with him?
Well, I knew. Because we had had conversations before I got the job. The first time I had met Quentin is when I had auditioned for "Reservoir Dogs" and I read with him and Lawrence Bender, the producer. And I couldn't figure out who these two horrible actors were that these people had hired to audition people. I left the audition and I was like, [whispers] What the fuck? Either I look so great that I was overacting or these guys are so bad that they can't make a determination about what I did. Then I saw him at Sundance and told him how much I loved the film and he's like, [doing a Tarantino impression], "How would you like a part?" I said, "Oh, you remember me auditioning." He said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I wrote something for you." And he was talking about "Pulp Fiction." So, from that point on, we've been tight. And that next week we met in Hollywood, had lunch somewhere on Sunset talking about stuff and we started talking about Hong Kong films. Because I collect Asian films and he watches a lot of that stuff.

That's a nice connection.
Yeah. And it was funny because he was like, "Every time I walk by your trailer, there's gunfire or some Kung Fu noise." I carry movies with me on set. I travel with like 30 or 40 movies all of the time. I watch old movies, I watch Hong Kong movies, I watch Westerns. I watch all kinds of crazy shit -- I watch Japanese horror films. So when he starts talking about stuff, I just start laughing because I know what he's talking about. And like this film, when I saw Jamie throwing the guns, I was like, "Aw, shit, the 'Bullet Ballet.'"

When did you first realize that you were cool? Not as a human being, but as part of popular culture? You can do a five-second cameo and people will applaud.
Well, "Pulp" did it in an interesting sort of way. For some reason, people love Gator [Jackson's character in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever"] ... but Jules [in "Pulp Fiction"] made me cool. He's the guy who's a total professional and in control all of the time. He says cool shit. He never gets rankled and he never gets excited. And that conversation in the diner is kind of what did it. The way he talks about going on that journey and the whole thing about the pork and I only need to be one cool-ass pig, or whatever. All that stuff that comes out of that character translates to me, for some reason. That that's who I am -- that I am that guy. And I'm nothing like that dude. I'll take it.

I started thinking about it when "Snakes on a Plane" came out. Because if that movie starred, I don't know, Greg Kinnear, I don't think anyone would have cared. But the fact that it was you saying those lines, everyone was talking about it. Nothing against Greg Kinnear ...
Do you ever watch this Australian TV show, "Rake"?

I know what it is, but I've never seen it.
[Kinnear]'s supposed to be playing that guy [in an American TV version] and I'm kind of like, "Really?" I like that show a lot. But "Snakes on a Plane" was a movie that I would have gone to see when I was a kid. And a lot of times I make choices because they are movies I would have gone to see when I was a kid. I lived in the movies. I wanted to be in that kind of movie and I wanted to be in that kind of movie -- I want to be that guy, I want to be that guy. And every now and then that comes along and you can say to yourself, "Hey, I'm doing that."

Along those lines, I remember hearing back in the 90s that you didn't care what the role in the "Star Wars" prequels was -- you just wanted to be in it.
Oh, I told George that. Look, you don't have to give me a part. All I need to do is put on one of those white fucking Stormtrooper outfits and run across the screen. And I'll know that I'm in it. Nobody needs to know -- I don't care. I just want to say, "I'm in that shit." I don't have to have a credit. I don't have to have anything. I'll know! And he's like, "Come on." I'm like, "No. for real."

I've seen you say that you'd be willing to come back for "Episode VII."
Yeah.

With the way we last saw Mace Windu ...
He just went out the window.

He could still be alive.
He just went out the window. He's a Jedi! He could have landed on a ledge.

In "Attack of the Clones," Anakin jumps out of a speeder and lands on another speeder. Why couldn't have Mace Windu have done the same thing?
I could have done any of that. And I'm down with that. And that was another thing: when I was doing "Avengers" in Albuquerque, they were shooting "Breaking Bad" next door. I just wanted to walk into the chicken place and buy some chicken and walk out. I didn't want to say anything, I don't want to do anything -- I just wanted to walk in there ... because I love the show. Giancarlo [Esposito, who played restaurant owner and master villain Gus Fring] is my friend. I just wanted to buy chicken from Giancarlo.

Why wouldn't they let you do that?
They did, but "The Avengers" people were like, "You don't have time go and do that." But they were cool with it -- I was bowling with them. We'd go bowling and do all kinds of shit together.

The first thing I remember seeing you in was "Goodfellas." But the first movie I paid to see in which you were the star was "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1."
That's a fun movie.

But that was before people saw a movie because Samuel L. Jackson was in it.
It's kind of culty now, though.

It is. But because you are who you are now.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.

So is that hard to maintain?
I'm not conscious of it. I try not to be conscious of it. And I don't choose roles because of it. And, sometimes, people will just attribute stuff to it. It's like Elijah [Price, Jackson's character] in "Unbreakable." You know, people say he's "cool." He's a fucking breakable nerd. And they go, "That fucking coat and your hair -- he's just cool." And I'm like, "Really?"

We're never going to see a sequel to that movie, are we?
There were supposed to be three. I don't know.

People liked "Unbreakable."
You'll have to ask the brilliant director who wrote it and didn't do the rest of them.

He moved on to "The Last Airbender."
I mean, he hasn't made a really good movie since then.

"Signs" was OK.
There's some issues. I didn't like that thing in the cornfield.

I thought it was OK.
I didn't see the Wahlberg one.

"The Happening”?
Yeah.

I haven't either. But wouldn't "Unbreakable 2" be a good career movie for him?
Yeah! Well, he suffered from what happened to Quentin when he made "Jackie Brown.” He didn't make "Pulp Fiction 2," he made "Jackie Brown" -- which is a wonderful fucking movie.

People love "Jackie Brown."
But it wasn't "Pulp Fiction 2." "Unbreakable" also didn't have the numbers of "I see dead people." That was a problem for him ... for his ego and the studio, also.

I don't remember Tarantino taking a critical hit for "Jackie Brown."
He felt like he did. He was hurt by the fact that people didn't love it. "Pulp Fiction" was loved.

But "Pulp Fiction" is a once-in-a-lifetime-type movie.
It's a standalone film.

It's hard to top.
People have been trying to do it and trying to do it. I saw some people try to do it just a week ago and failed miserably.

Which movie is this?
"Killing Them Softly." It didn't quite happen. And going nowhere! You can do that, but you've got to go somewhere. That's the marvelous thing about Quentin: his movies are talky as all hell, but it's shit you want to hear.

If M. Night announced tomorrow that "Unbreakable 2" is going to happen, it would be all over the Internet.
Everybody would be waiting for it, yeah. It would be crazy for it. It would trend through the roof now on Twitter. But, yeah, they would. But Quentin makes movies that Quentin wants to see. I don't think M. Night makes movies for the same reason. Quentin makes movies that are genres that he wants to see. "I like Spaghetti Westerns -- I'm going to write a Spaghetti Western. I like blaxploitation movies, too - so I'm going to make the protagonist black." So, he's got a blaxploitation western with Hong Kong undertones. The "Bullet Ballet" undertones. He wants to see it and I want to see it. I want to be in that kind of movie.

I think M. Night gets too caught up on having to have a twist.
Yeah, there's that. And there's, you know, "I'm smarter than everybody coming to watch my movie." Quentin's not that. He's just, "I want you to love my movie. I want you to love it and enjoy it because this is fucking cool."

You mentioned Twitter. Are you enjoying Twitter?
Yeah. I tweet -- it's me. Nobody manages it.

Did you like it from the start?
I didn't really understand the power of it or the fun of it when I first started doing it -- I just thought it was Facebook bullshit. But, it's a lot more fun than all of that. Even though your friend didn't like me too much after ... I'm sure your fellow New York Times critic A.O. Scott ...

I'm at Huffington Post.
Oh, OK.

But I know Tony Scott ... I mean, if I see him at a screening I will say "hi."
Tony? Like in the Tony Scott.

His name is Anthony. He doesn't go by "A.O." in person.
[Laughs] Why not? That's what he writes. If you write "A.O. Scott," then you want to be called "A.O.!"

He listed "Django" as his seventh favorite movie of the year. Does that mend anything for you?
It has nothing to do with mending things.

Why did you take that so personally? It wasn't like people weren't going to see "The Avengers."
Well, that was my point. Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world look at that movie as what it is. It's not an intellectual exposition that you need to intellectualize in any way. The people that read A.O. Scott, 30 percent of them were going to see the movie. The other 70 percent want to read [about something else.] "Talk about something else, motherfucker. Send your kid to see the movie and ask the kid what he thought." He had a right to say it ...

He did have a right to say it, but he's not "hoity toity" about movies. He loved "Revenge of the Sith." He wrote that it was better than the original “Star Wars.” So it's not like he doesn't like action movies.
That's OK, but it's not like I didn't have a right to re-criticize him just because I'm an actor. That's the point. That was the real sole point for everybody. "How dare this actor say something about what a critic wrote?"

I saw people defending both sides.
Fuck that. If you can say it, then I can say something about it. Other people write in about it and nobody gives a fuck. Just because it was me, it was like, "Oh, shit." It's like, "Yes, motherfucker, I pay attention." Unlike other actors, I don't lie and I don't bullshit people. I read shit about me. I read everything I can about me. And if you say something bad about me and I agree with it, I'll be OK with it. But if you say something that's fucked-up about a piece of bullshit pop culture that really is good -- "The Avengers" is a fucking great movie; Joss did an awesome job -- if you don't get it, then just say, "I don't get it." In general, you don't compare that shit to a John Wayne movie. And you don't call me a game-show host and get away with that shit.

So the HuffPost commenters should be warned that you will be reading their comments below this post?
[Laughs] Well, I read it. I do that.

"Django Unchained" opens on Dec. 25.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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