Samuel L. Jackson Interview: Marvel, Star Wars and Big Game

Samuel L. Jackson is a busy man. He’s already co-starred in three of the most exciting movies of 2015 – Avengers: Age of UltronKingsman: The Secret Service and the indie thriller Big Game – and he’s still got Quentin Tarantino’s western The Hateful Eight coming up later this year. You’ll also see him soon in Tarzan and The Blob. So it was something of a miracle that we were able to get him on the phone for even ten minutes, especially since he was on the set of Tim Burton’s new film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

So we didn’t waste any time. We talked to the man himself about his wonderful new action movie – already on VOD, and in theaters this weekend – as well as his upcoming roles in Tarzan and The Hateful Eight. We learned that he didn’t even know who he was going to play in Star Wars until he actually got to the set of The Phantom Menace, and that he was surprised to learn that he was going to be a major character. We talked about the future of Shaft and found out that he’s down to renew his contract with Marvel Studios, even after his contract expires after just a couple more movies.

Yes, we talked about an awful lot of awesome stuff, so let’s get cracking. Ladies and gentlemen… we give you Mr. Samuel L. Jackson.

Related: TIFF 2014 Review: ‘Big Game’ is a Winner

CraveOnline: So I’m watching Big Game and I’m thinking, “Every time Samuel L. Jackson gets on a plane something bad happens.”

Samuel L. Jackson: [Laughs.] I don’t ride in many planes in movies. That’s good.

Were you a big fan of Rare Exports? How did you get involved in this?

I’m not real sure. I just read the script and I enjoyed the story and said, “Hey, that sounds like fun.” I’d never made a movie in Germany, so let’s see what happens.

Was making a movie in Germany a different kind of experience?

It was interesting, yeah. Not totally different from an American experience, but different in an interesting sort of way. [Laughs.]

How so?

You know, Germans are planners. They make a plan, they stick to it, whether it works or not. [Laughs.]

Tell me about working with your young co-star, Onni Tommila. This is his first big action movie. What was that relationship like?

Onni’s a great kid, but his uncle’s the director so there’s a whole family dynamic thing going on. So I talked to him about one thing, or “Okay, we’re going to have some fun doing this,” and if his uncle sees him having too much fun he’ll come and give him a family talk. But he was prepared, ready, anxious… a little nervous at first. I did my best to put him at ease and let him know this is not a big star thing. I’m just another guy on a movie with him. I’m an actor, just like you, so we’re both in the same place. Let’s just see if we can go in here and make this as much fun as we possibly can. 

And he did. He came to work with a great enthusiasm every day and we had a ball working together. We really established a great working relationship, which I think works in the film, and for me doing the scenes with him were way more important than doing the action stuff where we’re screaming and running and dodging bullets and doing stuff. So all those things worked out quite well between the two of us.

About those action sequences: you’ve been in so many giant action movies, but this one seems more rough and tumble. I believe it more. Can you tell me about those scenes and what it was like shooting them with Jalmari Helander?

It was a different kind of set up. The safety regulations I guess are pretty much the same in a certain kind of way. The stunts are different, and I had my stunt guy there, so that was great to have Kiante [Elam] with me for fifteen years or so, almost twenty really, doing the stunts that I really didn’t want to take a chance doing. 

I did get hurt one time but it was supposed to be something very simple and safe, and it turned out to be kind of strange. A strange kind of freak accident where I’m sitting in the freezer and I’m ten feet off the ground, and the camera’s on one end of the freezer and the kid’s standing there on the other end with me, and I had him a knife and jumped off the freezer. And when he jumped off the camera rig was a little heavier than they thought, and it flipped the freezer and I went flying out of there and got thrown about 20 feet. 

That kind of snapped all the ligaments on my collar bone so it kind of sticks up now. But that’s my memory of that movie! My memento.

Holy crap! That’s insane. Have you gotten injured like that on movies before?

Not that badly. 

Yeah, it’s sort of like… actually, if you check my Instagram account, the Instagram picture is my x-ray. [Laughs.]

This is the first time you’ve played the President, am I right?

Yeah, but you know, a lot less less important being presidential and playing a politician than being a guy who was the most powerful person in the free world who finds himself being the most powerless person in the place he’s in right now, and needing to depend on someone else, and the commonality between me and that kid that finds me, and the fact that people are losing faith in my presidency and nobody has faith in him going out there, being able to accomplish the goal that he’s been set out to do. 

So it’s me teaching him a life lesson of how you deal with criticism, and being able to be the person that you know yourself to be when people think you’re something else.

That’s a really great way of looking at it. You’ve played a lot of great parts that embody a person we’d all like to be, be it Shaft or a Jedi. Is there one role in particular that was the dream? Is it still Star Wars? I know you campaigned really hard for that…

At that time, yeah, I mean I just really wanted to be in a Star Wars movie and George [Lucas] was kind enough to make me this Jedi, which was kind of more than I had even imagined it was going to be because I was never told what I was going to be before I showed up. That’s just what happened. 

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to end up doing some things that were particularly iconic and wonderful, [like] Jules in Pulp Fiction. Quentin [Tarantino] has done a wonderful job of creating characters for me that mean something to me, and mean something to audiences when they see them, from Jules to Ordell to all these other guys. 

And now Major Warren in Hateful Eight, that I just finished, which none of us in the movie can wait to see. [Laughs.] We’re all anxious because it was so much fun to do and it’s kind intense and kind of crazy and kind of wonderful in all those kinds of ways. Hopefully when it comes out it will be all those things that we hope it will be, or we felt like we were doing when we did it.

What can you tell me about Warren as a character, without ruining the movie obviously?

Ex-cavalry officer, [now] bounty hunter. That’s pretty much it.

I’m very excited about Tarzan. It’s my understanding that you play the villain in the film?

No, I don’t!

No? I’m sorry. I must have done poor research and you should slap me around, sir.

No, Christoph Waltz actually plays the villain. I actually play a guy by the name of George Washington Williams, who was a real historic figure. He was the first African-American to go to the Congo and discover King Leopold was enlisting slavery to get ivory and rubber out of the country. In fact, I actually just visited his grave in Blackpool when I was shooting this Tim Burton movie that I’m doing over here.

That’s incredible. What’s that like, to play a character and then visit their grave? I can’t even imagine.

It’s kind of surreal. You know, I’d forgot that he was even buried in Blackpool until my assistant reminded me, and said this is where George Washington Williams is. So we found out where he was buried and we went over there to take a picture of his grave. We’re probably going to put that on Instagram by the time the movie comes out.

Have you heard that they’re trying to reboot Shaft?

Yeah, I did. I read that. And they also said that Samuel L. Jackson’s definitely not in it. [Laughs.] It’s funny because a friend of mine is actually the producer, John Davis, and I was at his house when I read that article. Like the day after, I was at his house, “So you’re definitely not putting me in your movie?” He’s like, “What are you talking about?” He said he didn’t know anything about the article that they’d written, but it’s fine. Good for them.

I hope there’s room for you. I think the whole Shaft dynasty should continue.

[Laughs.] Hopefully they get somebody cool to do it and it works out for them. 

When you were contracted at Marvel, they contracted you for like eight million movies.


Are we at the end of that now? Are you almost out?

I think I’ve done, I think seven. So I may have two more. I’m not in Captain America [Civil War], so I don’t know when they’re going to get to the other two.

It seems like they’re using you a little bit more sparingly now. Like, “Oh crap, we only have so much left.”


When that’s over, would you want to come back, or do you think it’s time to move on?

No, I’m down! No, I’m totally down to reboot. It’s a great world to be a part of and I totally enjoy being Nick Fury, so I’m down with it.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.