Samuel L. Jackson Lets Loose On 'Django', Tarantino, Slavery, Oscars And Golden Globes – Interview

With a filmography that includes roles in some of the highest-grossing movies of all time including The Avengers, Iron Man and the Star Wars series Samuel L. Jackson clearly knows how to pick ‘em. And that is entirely intentional. His current film Django Unchainedin which he is reunited with frequent director Quentin Tarantino opened to strong grosses on Christmas Day and is already looking like another solid box office hit.

In the film he plays Stephen, the conniving house slave for Leonardo DiCaprio‘s despicable character Calvin Candie. As the manipulative slave, Jackson says he is playing perhaps the most hated negro in cinematic history. He’s fine with that. “At least he’s a memorable character. I mean Quentin writes interesting characters. I’ve been pretty despicable in most of his films. People loved Jules (Pulp Fiction) but he’s a murderer. People loved Ordell (Jackie Brown) but he’s a murderer. Stephen has an unusual take on slavery. He’s okay with it,” he says and is not worried about what African American audiences might think (Spike Lee has already chimed in to express his displeasure with the film’s depiction of slaves). “I hope he’s reviled, and people want to see him die. People enjoy him, but it’s strange. He’s a funny guy in a way, despicably funny. People laugh at Stephen and what he does, but you know they do want to see him dead.” But still slavery is a serious subject and Jackson says Tarantino’s larger than life and sometimes comical take is aimed more for the masses.

Related: Samuel L. Jackson On ‘SNL': Did He Or Didn’t He?

“I would say that Quentin’s way is the way to reach a larger audience, and slavery seems to be another backdrop. We seldom understand that when people were out there shooting Indians or whatever, on the other side of the Mississippi  there were people getting beaten down. This is the first time those genres cross paths,” he says. “When you take that and make it entertaining in a way, you express the brutality of what slavery really was, of how people were really property and the way people treated them. Everyone’s all ‘oh my god, Quentin’s written ‘nigger’ 176 times on a script again’… This is an homage to Mandingo, those movies Quentin likes. He has a habit of mixing genres of movies he likes. Django Unchained  is essentially a spaghetti western exploitation movie with some Hong Kong overtones. He knows the movies that we like. I tend to go on location with about 30 Hong Kong films — I have a lot of Asian crime films in my trailer just to pass the time. Every time he’d pass my trailer he’d ask, ‘what are you watching now?’ and we’ll talk about it. We had long conversations about those movies. We tend to watch the same kind of bullshit. Entertainment.”

Related: Quentin Tarantino To Receive Rome Film Fest Life Achievement Award

Jackson’s history with Tarantino goes back 20 years to Reservoir Dogs. He read for a role with Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender but didn’t even realize Tarantino was the director at that time. “I thought he was just a really bad actor. I was like ‘damn, these dudes are horrible’. I look like I was overacting or they have no judgment of what’s good and what’s not,” he recalls.  He didn’t get the part but ran into Tarantino some time later at the film’s first screening at Sundance and was told the director was writing a role for him in something else. That turned out to be Pulp Fiction in 1994 and the role that won Jackson his only Oscar nomination to date. He lost to Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. When I asked if he thought he should have won instead Jackson was refreshingly candid.

“Yes I do. I really don’t know many people who can not only remember Ed Wood but remember what Martin Landau did in it,” he said but added he was told it was more of a life achievement kind of award. “You know they were saying ‘Martin’s been nominated a few times and you’re going to be around for a while. Don’t worry.’ I was thinking I didn’t know it was a thing where if you get nominated for a few times you automatically get one. I thought it was supposed to be about impact.”

Jackson’s Django co-stars Di Caprio and Christoph Waltz both got nominated for Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actor but Jackson, who has been getting his own share of awards buzz, was left out. He knows the game. “I understand what the Golden Globes is. It’s the only show they (the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) have and is their biggest moneymaker so you have to pack the room with people that are going to make people tune into that show. With popular actors and the popular television shows, it’s whoever they think people want to see on the red carpet and hope that they win, not necessarily the quality of work you’ve done,” he says.

So I guess we won’t expect to see Jackson turning up as a presenter on the Globes this year? Jackson doesn’t seem to care. He says he is not in it for awards as some actors may be. “I figured out early in the game that the best thing for me to do is just keep going to work. I don’t worry about picking a movie that says ‘oh my god, this has Oscar potential’. Other people think about that stuff, I don’t. I look at some actors and go ‘they only do those kinds of movies’. I do movies I want to see myself. Like Quentin, he writes the movies he wants to see. I tend to take roles that I want to see me in. I enjoy movies for the audience aspect of it. I am an audience member. I like all kinds of movies and if the role is right in that kind of movie and the timing is right I’m going to do it”.

Related: ‘Django Unchained’ A ‘Shaft’ Prequel? So Says Quentin Tarentino

Jackson is continuing those kinds of films and hopes to be shooting a new version of the Tarzan story this summer if all goes well. He’s also got the new Robocop, another Captain America and eventually a second Avengers on the docket. He’d even like to figure out a way to revive his character for the next Star Wars and there are even rumors of an eventual Nick Fury film too. He’s also about to do another film with David Ellis, director of his cult hit, Snakes On A Plane. “It’s a live action version of a Japanese anime. It’s real sick,” he says with obvious relish.

  1. Sam Jackson is a very good actor and should have been nominated for Django Unchained
    Martin Landau deserved the Oscar over him
    He had been nominated 2 times in a row prior and like Jamie Fox in Ray he portrayed a person who captured the essence
    Sam has done great work and has my vote

  2. He sounds bitter about not winning the Oscar for Pulp Fiction.

    Newsflash Mr Jackson: not only do I remember Ed Wood and Martin Landau’s performance, I also prefer that film and performance to Tarantino’s.

      1. You said it. Not even close.

        People complain about all the fake, phony, passive aggressive bull in Hollywood. No one says what they really mean and all that rubbish. Then, when someone like Jackson gives an honest answer…he gets labeled as bitter. Sam has had a fantastic career and will work until the day he decides to stop. He’s a rich man. I don’t think he’s bitter at all. You read that into the line.

        1. Jackson doesn’t come off bitter, he’s just wrong. Jules is a funny, goofy character in a funny, goofy movie. Meanwhile, Landau was there to take care of business, and he did with relish. Jackson absolutely deserves an Oscar, but that particular year, the right man won. It’s unfortunate that sometimes a performance that would be a sure-thing any other year occasionally goes up against something uncommonly fantastic, but that’s what happened.

      2. Really? Pulp Fiction’s obviously the more impactful movie and I guess I’d pick it over Ed Wood if I have to make a choice, but I really do love Ed Wood. Seen it 3 or 4 times. Landau’s great. I mean, there’s plenty of this-won-over-that which grow more and more embarrassing over time, but this isn’t one of them.

      3. ehhh..it all depends on what ya like: if yer in the mood to watch someone get sodomized then its pulp fiction..errr if yer in the mood to watch bela Lugosi shoot up then its ed wood. theyre both great frikkin movies with incredible performances. personally, I think landau deserved it simply because it was a much more demanding role in that it was a real person that we’re all familiar with and he knocked it out of the fuggin park. Jackson did a phenomenal job with jules..but who is jules? oh that’s right he’s the guy with the wallet that says bad mamba jamba on it. so sorry.. Jackson obviously deserved an academy award over martin frikkin landau’s spot-on depiction of bela Lugosi on and off the screen..NOT IN MY OPINION!!! but it all just depends on yer mood at the time.. man rape or ex-boogeymen junkies?? there is no wrong answer as far as which was the better movie..they were both great. BUTTTT!! Pulp Fiction was stylistically groundbreaking, and therefore the more IMPORTANT film of the two.. but that has almost no bearing at all upon the acting in the movie itself. yeah, PF is more important than EW.. but when compare the rolls my mind immediately hails martin landau the winner, no sweat.

    1. How is it that him being candid and saying what he thinks rather than doing the usual diplomatic afraid-to step-on-any-toes bullshitting makes him sound bitter? That sounds like that silly “if he has nothing nice to say it means he’s a ‘hater'” mentality that’s so prevalent today. Jackson even says later in the interview that he doesn’t really care.

      I’ve always liked Jackson for telling things as he sees them. He’s been doing that for the 20 years I’ve been following him. The man is very comfortable in his own skin (no doubt due to the hard path he traveled prior to his success), and he’s never afraid to say what he thinks even if it pisses off blacks, whites, Hollywood, etc.

      He must be doing something right. He keeps getting hired, and his name is connected to more box office money than any other actor.

    2. Yay, JamesK, being obstinate just to make a point. Nobody remembers Ed Wood, yet the pic above with Travolta and Jackson has been silkscreened on t-shirts and canvases and is iconic, while Sam’s lines from Pulp Fiction can be quoted from memory. That movie was a game-changer and Sam was deserving, point blank. His take on it was right as rain. I bet you loved when Ving Rhames gave Jack Lemmon his Golden Globe back in ’98.

      1. Mark Hamill is silkscreened on t-shirts and canvases but I don’t think he deserved an Oscar for “Star Wars.” Same goes for Samuel L. Jackson. Personally, I thought his performance in “Pulp Fiction” was definitely entertaining, but basically just a lot of showboating that lacked any subtlety. Not anything award-worthy.

      2. Nobody remembers Ed Wood? Really? Presumptuously speaking for the entire world much? LMAO! Face it – Samuel L. Jackson has played the same character nine times out of ten for the past 25 years and that’s why he doesn’t get legit acting awards. Maybe if he showed some range once in a while (instead of playing the angry black man with a gun), he’d be rewarded. Until then, he can keep cashing the hack checks and leave the acting to the professionals. Nasty old prick he is anyway.

      3. I remember Ed Wood; in fact, I watch it at least once a year. And Landau deserved that Oscar, as did Rick Baker.

    3. I would tend to agree… not only is Landau brilliant in that film, it might be the last great film that Burton will ever make. But where this is silly is that both performances were great… we’re splitting hairs, had either actor won, it would have been satisfying.

      Looking back, Pulp fiction resonated with audiences and the industry in such an influential way that it’s hard to ignore that the award should have gone to Jackson. But then again, I don’t quote “Pulp fiction” too often… but there isn’t week that goes by where I don’t have a moment where I yell “Pull the strings!” at my child.

  3. I always love Samuel L. Jackson’s honesty. It is always refreshing. Yes, Sam should have won the Oscar for Pulp Fiction , and people still quote his wonderful lines to this day ( he line delivery was impeccable) . He should have been nominated for his great turn in Jungle Fever. Jackson doesn’t need an Oscar, because he is well-regarded ,very busy, and making serious dough.

  4. You go Sam! Great character/performance in Django and for the record…I liked Landau’s performance in Ed Wood but I loved your character, loved your performance in Pulp Fiction, which happens to be my favorite Tarantino film as well. I was rooting for you at the Oscars that year. A classic performance in a classic film that will be remembered as groundbreaking in film history. People quote your lines and many of the characters’ classic lines from that film. A testament to the writing as well as the performances. Keep ‘em comin’ man. You rarely disappoint.

  5. Right on, Mr. Jackson. I’ll watch ANY movie you’re in because I love your work… you never disappoint.

  6. I don’t know if Jackson should have won the Oscar® for Pulp Fiction, but I do know that if I’d been a member of the Academy, I would have had to flip a coin to choose between him and Martin Landau – and no matter which way the toss went, I’d have felt bad for the other guy.

  7. I, for one, will never forget Landau’s haunting, heartbreaking performance in ED WOOD. A performance that he richly deserved the Oscar for.

    Some people have class, and then there’s Samuel Jackson…

    1. I agree. No class. The sour grapes over Martin Landau’s win are bad enough, but now he has to make up lame excuses as to why his more talented co-stars (Leonardo Di Caprio and Christoph Waltz) received Golden Globe nominations and he didn’t. Even his logic falls apart: in what universe is Christoph Waltz a bigger Hollywood star with more powerful red-carpet-draw than Samuel L. Jackson??

  8. Landau’s Oscar was incredibly well deserved and appreciated by many. Lame to knock it, mister paychecks on a plane.

  9. Samuel Jackson is the best thing about Django Unchained period.

    Yes, Waltz and Dicaprio are excellent too but Jackson was always the scene stealer.

    If there is any justice and I’m not holding my breathe then Jackson should get a best supporting Oscar nomination at the very least and rightly so, plus many more awards.

    I have been a strong supporter for many years of Dicaprio and by gosh he’s owed an Oscar so many times before but so does Jackson, and quite honestly again Jackson was the best in Django Unchained (classic movie).

    Again, my order for any Oscar nominations are Jackson, Waltz, Dicaprio, Foxx and Johnson.

    If anything, I don’t see why Jackson, Waltz and Dicaprio couldn’t all be nominated under one spot for best supporting actor.

    I’m actually glad that Deadline is profiling Jackson, as the recent awards nominations have focused on Waltz or Dicaprio and not enough on Jackson, Foxx, Washington or even Johnson.

  10. He is ridiculously good in Django Unchained. Everyone is. The so-called controversy is overshadowing how exciting and unpredictable the movie is and how wonderful the performances are.

  11. In 1970, John Wayne won the best actor Oscar for TRUE GRIT. He beat both Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt from MIDNIGHT COWBOY and Peter O’Toole from GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. Sometimes, it’s just not your turn, regardless of what you did on the screen. As it should be. If plumbers gave awards to other plumbers, on occasion the guy who cleared the drain best would lose to the guy who the other plumbers look up to, admire, and just feel deserves it. And plumbers don’t make $10 million a year working a part-time job where they are pampered and fed on a daily basis. Get over it.

    1. Sam Jackson is a revalation in this classic film. His work is deeply complex and shaded, while being comical and, dare I say, coonishly over the top. A brilliant, brilliant comentary, and an amalgamation of every crazy kind of stereotype that hollywood has imposed on black people over more than a century of film making and more than sixty years of television. He turns the whole trope on its head, does a break dance head spin and moon walks circles around the other actors. From this actor’s point of view the virtuocity and fearlessness of his performance is utterly stunning. And I love his plain spoken candor in the interview.

      1. Samuel L Jackson comes from the School of Eyeball Acting. The rules are as follows:

        SHOCK:

        Open eyes very wide.

        RESENTMENT:

        Open eyes very wide.

        ANGER:

        Open eyes very wide.

        BEWILDERMENT:

        Open eyes very wide.

        EVERY OTHER SITUATION:

        Open eyes very wide.

        Congratulations, you are now a master actor and here is your gold statuette.

  12. Jackson should’ve gotten the Oscar hands down. Landau was brilliant as Lugosi but it just wasn’t as powerful. Sam literally hypnotized you with his locution and glare. It was the definition of a commanding performance at the time. The cultural impact was huge on the basis of his character alone. There’s no debate, he should’ve got it.

  13. I adore both Sam Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” and Martin Landau in “Ed Wood.” It would have been a tough call if I’d had a vote — unlike the rest of the ’94 Oscars, which should have been racked up by “Pulp Fiction” over “Forrest Gump” (or in the case of Best Supporting Actress, over “Bullets Over Broadway”). I would love for Supporting Actor to have been a tie that year — I can’t really take away from Landau’s performance, though Jackson was equally incredible.

    All that said, ’94 was a hell of a year for cinema, wasn’t it?

    And Sam’s performance in “Django Unchained” is fantastic. It’s a great flick and everyone is good in it. Like basically everything Quentin Tarantino touches.

  14. Weird. I’m watching Ed Wood right now. “Pull the string!”

    While Jackson gave an award-worthy performance as Jules, he had tough competition. Landau deserved the Oscar.

    Jackson’s situation mirrored that of Pulp Fiction itself, unfortunately having to go up against Forrest Gump for best picture.

  15. Yeah, but the point is you’re in the minority. We all know people quote his lines from Pulp Fiction on the regular and “Jules” has had more impact than “Bella Lugosi”. That said, it’s all subjective, we can like what we like. I don’t think he sounds bitter, he wasn’t bitc#in’ and moanin’ this opinion unsolicited. He just answered honestly.

    1. Bela Lugosi, in all his incarnations, has had more cultural impact than “Jules” or “Sam” ever will. Always has, always will. Quentin has always said he bows at the alter of Lugosi.

    2. I think the distinction here is that an oscar is not indicative of your performance necessarily being the most widely circulated/remembered/revered.

      The fact that The Dark Knight didn’t win best picture indicates that to me rather clearly.

      Mass appeal != oscar. In fact, more times than not, having blockbuster status seems to hinder oscar chances.

      But hey. Whatever. THe Academy Awards are all just an elaborate marketing scheme anyways.

  16. Many people dont know that Samuel was in fact a former junkie prior to his career taking off. His performance as a junkie in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever was one of his most personal and best of his career. It was incredible. And this was also the film where Halle Barry had her first breakout role as his junkie girlfriend.

  17. The interviewer asked Jackson if he felt he should have won the Oscar. And he gave his honest answer. Why is that a problem for people? It’s not like he volunteered his thoughts on the issue. There are some thin-skinned folks in the world…

    BTW, Martin Landau gave a great performance in Ed Wood. Both actors were deserving. Nothing wrong with a performer feeling like their performance should have won. It’s only an opinion at the end of the day.

  18. I loved “Django Unchained” and I loved Sam Jackson in it, best role for him in many years! As a voting member of the SAG Nominating Committee this year I happily put a check next to Mr. Jackson’s name in the Supporting Actor Category feeling he was exceedingly deserving of a nomination, I’m sorry not enough of my fellow nom comm members followed suit, resulting in a nomination for Jackson. That being said, I am quite disappointed in the sore loser remarks regarding Martin Landau and his wonderful and, yes, Oscar worthy performance in “Ed Wood”. To infer that people no longer remember what Mr. Landau did in “Ed Wood” is quite ignorant and rather asinine. I’ve seen “Pulp Fiction” exactly once, the weekend it came out, thought it was terrific. I’ve seen “Ed Wood” over a dozen times and look forward to seeing it again in the future. It’s easily Tim Burton’s best film and Martin Landau is funny and heart breaking and gives a career best performance, consequently he received a well deserved Supporting Actor Oscar. I’m all for honest answers, but Mr. Jackson exposes some rather unflattering ego issues in his bashing of Mr. Landau’s VERY deserved Oscar victory. I recommend Sam Jackson watch “Ed Wood” again sometime soon and exhibit more respect for his fellow performers or his one and only Oscar nomination may remain just that, a one time thing.

  19. Jack Nicholson said Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi was one of the best performances he had ever seen. It was a foregone conclusion that he would win, and he won every other award that year. The performance and the film are fondly remembered today. I’m sure people come up to him and quote lines from Ed Wood, which is a cult classic. His role in Crimes and Misdemeanors is also unforgettable. He’s closing in on 90, so leave him alone.
    For Pulp Fiction, Sam Jackson should have been nominated as Best Actor, not supporting. If he wants to complain, that’s what he should be complaining about. Jackson should have been nominated for Jungle Fever. Waltz steals Django Unchained, including the carpets, the chandeliers and anything that isn’t nailed down.It’s a leading role, not supporting. However, the entire cast is superb, and I love Don Johnson in it the way I love James Spader in Lincoln.

  20. I walked out of Django Unchained thinking that Will Smith should have taken the Django role, and Jackson should be ashamed of himself for taking the Steven role. A mostly awful and embarrassing film.

    1. You’re in the minority. Fantastic reviews across the board and it’s even doing wonderful box office for an R-rated western during the holidays – for any time of year, really. Seen it four times and each time, the audience applauded and loved it to death. To each their own, but there are few people who DON’T love it.

    1. Um. His film that year was “Pulp Fiction” – not “Snakes On A Plane”. Should I mention some of the terrible movies that Landau has done?

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