This is an interview I did with Samuel L Jackson in 2003. An edited version appeared in FHM Magazine in 2004.
You’ve played a cop a few times in the past, like SWAT and The Negotiator. Have you spent time riding along with real cops to prepare for your role?
When I was doing 187, oddly enough, I wasn’t playing a cop but they put me in a car with some CRASH cops. They put me in the car with these CRASH cops because we were doing some stuff with kids who were in gangs and they wanted me to ride around with CRASH cops and see some kids in gangs. I got in the car with these guys and I was riding around with them in some pretty bad areas of LA and meeting gang kids. It was one of those kinds of things where you say to yourself, well why am I doing this? We’re supposed to be acting and pretending anyway. Then you get in situations where the cop says to you they get a call and the cop stops the car and the cop says stay in the car I have to go and deal with this but if I’m gone more than ten minutes then there’s a gun in the dashboard and if anybody approaches the car I’ve seen your movies before and I know you know how to handle a weapon so don’t be afraid to use it. Why am I here? I’m supposed to be doing a movie. It’s not something I like doing so I’d rather do what I’ve been doing my whole life and pretend to be a cop like when I would play cops and robbers with all my friends. Or when we did Rules of Engagement we went out in the swamps and pretended to be soldiers for real with Captain Dye. Come on, I’ve played army all my life I know how to do that. And I know how to handle weapons and I know how to give orders. I don’t have to go out and go on patrol and do all this stuff and have Captain Dye going crazy with me. We had Viet Cong troopers out there and they were hunting us, we were hunting them. We set up ambushes. They’d come out of nowhere because they were camouflaged and they were all around us and all the sudden we’re in a live fire fight with these guys and it’s crazy. Okay, it was fun in a way but it’s raining and we’re laying on you. I don’t need to do that but we end up doing stuff like that. They say it adds to the realism of the film but it doesn’t.
When you were the cops did you ever have to reach for the gun? Did things ever get hairy?
Oh, I always reach for the gun! As soon as he leaves the car I get the gun out. I don’t wait for the ten minutes to come. He leaves the car, I open the glove compartment, I get the gun out, I cock it, and I sit there. If anybody comes other than him the gun gets pointed out the window—stay over there!
Did you have to do it at all?
No, he always came back.
You filmed in San Francisco, which is Phil Kaufman (the director, who also did Quills, The Right Stuff and Henry and June) hometown. Was he always trying to sneak his friends into the movie?
Not that I know of. Maybe he did and I didn’t know it but there were a lot of his friends around and they were always visiting the set. Friends of Phils. We met a lot of people and ate a lot of places he normally eats and called on a lot of friends’ favorites, restaurants. We ate at some of his friends’ restaurants. And Willie Brown was around a lot. He was kind of in and out of the movie.
What about places you shot? Did you ever end up shooting at his friends’ houses?
Um, no. I don’t think the house that we used as my house was a friend of his house. People seem to be kind of fascinated by the whole movie process so I don’t think they were like normal movie people. They were watching us shoot the movie and being really amazed that we were actually using the house.
When you were shooting did anybody break anything in the house?
I don’t think so. Usually when you use a house in a movie it ends up in better shape than it was before you got there. Because the art job usually does a pretty good job of replacing the house or improving the house. People get a new paint job, their molding gets improved, and all the holes that they drilled in to put lights in, they fix the walls and all kinds of stuff that wasn’t done before we got there.
FHM needs them to come by our apartment. In Twisted, you play a cop and have Ashley Judd as a costar. Isn’t that supposed to be Morgan Freeman’s job?
Yeah. It has been in the last few films I guess Kiss the Girls and that other film that he was on, a lawyer or whatever. But I like Ashley and I’ve liked her since we did A Time to Kill together I’ve wanted to work with her. I sort of had the opportunity to do those films also. At a certain point I read them and had a pass at doing them too. But being thought of in the same sentence as Morgan is always a source of pride for me. I’ve always watched Morgan and I sort of think of him as a mentor. We met in New York early when I got there and I watched him and I always wished I could use the ease and sense of reality that he brings to the things he does and hopefully that’s the kind of work that I do.
Did you guys raise any hell when you hung out together?
We used to go to the same bar across the street from the public theater and hang out together.
Anything ever happen there?
Any wacky serial killer mishaps on set?
No not really. Not in that respect. Nope. That’s the kind of stuff San Francisco is kind of known for. You move around in the mist in that city. It has its own very Jack the Ripper, London kind of atmosphere. Especially at night when you’re shooting. You’re so busy staying warm at night there that you don’t tend to think about that kind of stuff. There are too many people around for anything to happen to us.
Did Ashley do anything funny?
Ashley’s always doing funny things but that’s just the nature of who she is. She’s a joker and is always doing practical joke kind of things. And she’s ordering food a lot. She’s constantly ordering food from interesting places so there’s always food coming in. She eats enormous amounts of food considering how she looks. She’s consuming food all the time.
What does she like?
She likes fried food. It’s amazing. She eats like a southern girl because she’s a southern girl. She always has her dogs around. The dogs are always running around.
Did they cause any trouble?
No, she’s just a big animal person. They’re always there and they’re actually pretty obedient. They’re pretty pleasant and obedient.
What kind of practical jokes does she like to pull?
She makes funny faces when she’s off camera while you’re working. She sometimes twists the lines in a sort of interesting way. You either go along with it or say the line the way it is to see if you can hold on to what the tone is that’s supposed to be there. Sometimes she’ll say your lines. It’s kind of interesting to see if you’ll keep your train of thought. Just to keep you interesting.
Did she ever throw you?
I don’t get thrown.
You made six flicks in 2003.
I did? I had no idea.
How does Samuel L Jackson relax?
I play golf.
Why do you like it?
I’m an only child so the sense of individual accomplishment that golf gives me is feeling pretty great because you’re responsible for everything that happens. You’re responsible for all of your successes and all of your failures. It’s not a team sport so anything I do on the golf course I get the credit for and that’s good for me. It’s a very difficult game. In order to do something that’s that precise, it’s a lot more athletic than people tend to think it is. And it’s a very cerebral game in terms of thinking about all of the things that go into making a particular golf shot. It’s a lot more difficult than the average physical game that you have to play. It’s a lot more thoughtful and I enjoy that.
How do you find time to hone your golf game?
We have a lot of time on our hands. I just tend to have a lot of time on my hands. Even when I’m on set there’s an enormous amount of time spent sitting around or waiting around or laying around. So there’s lots of time for putting. If there’s a patch of grass around we’re always chipping balls at things. If I’m on location I have a golf clause that says I have to play golf twice a week and they have to join a club so I can play. I’ll find driving ranges that are open at night that have lights so I can go practice. I spend a lot of time on golf.
Who’s the celebrity that cheats the most at golf?
James Woods. He’ll kind of move the ball in the fairway until he gets the lie that he wants. Sometimes he forgets exactly how many strokes he uses after he hits the ball. It’s just the way he plays.
Who’s the best celebrity golfer you’ve played with?
The best celebrity golfer? Jack Wagner’s good. Kenny G’s good, but he can be rattled. You can talk him out of his golf game.
How do you do that?
I’m a trash talking golfer. I play golf the way most guys play basketball. Some guys can’t take that. Kenny G’s one of those guys. If you talk to him while he’s playing he starts looking over his shoulder. I’m quiet while he’s swinging but I talk to him about what he’s about to do and what he can do and what he can’t do. That kind of gets in his head. I get in people’s heads when I play.
So you dominate?
Yup, through intimidation.
Sounds like Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron. In Pulp Fiction your wallet said Bad Mother Fucker. Who’s the baddest MF you’ve tangled with in real life?
In real life? Wow. That was a guy I grew up with. The kid was the best fighter I ever knew. He was not afraid of anything. He would walk up to crowds of people and fight whole families. He wasn’t physically imposing or anything. He just had this incredible will and he was the toughest guy I ever knew. I never fought him and he was a friend of mine. And if somebody bothered me and he saw it he would talk me into fighting them and if somebody else jumped in he took care of the rest of the people. Ooh! I mean, my God. His name’s Robert Pace. He’s an incredibly brave and bad motherfucker. I never saw him lose a fight either no matter what or how long. I saw him fight people for days. He would fight, fight, fight somebody and then somebody would break the fight up. If he saw that person the next day he’d walk right up to them and punch them and start the fight all over again. You know, break it up, an hour later he sees that person, walks right up to him, punch him, start it all over again. This would go on for days and days and days until he finally beat that person down.
What’s the nastiest thing you ever saw him do?
I’d say when he literally kicked people in the head against concrete or pound someone’s head in a concrete wall or brick wall, stuff like that.
And this is a guy from your neighborhood?
Yeah, a guy I grew up with.
Jules’ biblical monologue in Pulp Fiction is probably one of the most quoted of all time. Where is the weirdest place a fan has dropped it on you?
Ironically enough I never met anybody who actually knew it. People think they know it and they start it or they try to do it but nobody’s ever actually been able to do it and people ask me to do it in all kinds of places. People ask me to do it on their cell phones and put it on their answering machines. People have asked me to do it on the phone to their mothers, to their brothers. People have asked me to write it for people’s birthdays on people’s birthday cards. A guy just asked me to write Ezekiel 25:17 on his arm so he could have a tattoo and write my name under it so he could have it tattooed on his arm. But I’ve never met anyone who could do the speech the way it was done verbatim even though people swear they’ve watched the movie 300 times. Nobody. I’ve never met anyone who really knows that speech.
FHM doesn’t know it either. Got us. But has anybody ever busted it out at an awkward time?
Oh yeah that happens all the time! I’m sitting there in airport and a guy just walks up to me while I’m sitting there and starts going, hey, the path of the righteous man is rotten on all sides. Okay. On an airplane, in church.
Tell us about that.
This guy sat down next to me in church and we sat there the whole time and the guy finally goes, I know who you are. Okay. And he goes (whisper) Ezekiel 25:17—church is cool, alright? It’s a bible verse right? It’s not. And he starts saying it. No man! Somebody asked me at a funeral once to do it at a graveside.
They wanted you to do it over the coffin?
No, I was just standing there and he said, you know it would be really cool if you did that. Shut up!
It scares us just to think about you saying that speech. Do you break out the angry Jules voice to intimidate the guys who came to take out your daughter?
Not anymore. I got over it. I knew it wasn’t gonna stop. When she first started dating guys I really didn’t say anything. Guys would come in and speak to me and I’d just stare at them. I was like, you’re not here to talk to me. And she’d say, dad you gotta speak to them. Why should I? They’re not here to talk to me and I know they don’t really want to talk to me. Why talk to them? As soon as I talk to them it opens the door for them to think it’s okay and I think it’s cool for them to be here and I don’t want them to even think that. I didn’t talk to the majority of the guys who came by. I didn’t say a word to them.
You didn’t drop any furious anger on them?
I told one guy not to fuck my daughter. Just like that.
How’d he take it?
He kind of blanched. His eyes got big. He came in and insisted on having a conversation with me. I’m trying to watch a game and he’s like, how you doing? I look at him. He’s like, I just want you to know it’s really good to meet you, whuwhuwhuwhu, and we’re going to the movies whuhuwhuh. Don’t fuck her! And she walked in just as I said that and she’s like, dad! She grabbed him and they left. That’s pretty much it. That’s all the conversation I had with that kid.
Did he ever come back?
Did he stay away from you the next time.
Ever used the angry voice on a telemarketer? Or maybe when you’re receiving inferior customer service?
No, I just hang up on them. I’ve gone off on some people but that generally happens in Europe. It doesn’t happen in the US because people always go out of their way to be nice to me in the US. But in the UK, and especially Germany. . . Oh yeah.
Can you tell me about a time it happened?
I was in Nobu in the UK and this guy was trying to tell me something about a table and I needed a bigger table and there’s nobody in the fucking restaurant. He was trying to tell me there weren’t any tables and there was nobody in the fucking restaurant. So I finally ended up saying don’t make me call somebody in the US. I was like, I can call somebody in New York, somebody in LA. It’s not like you don’t have a space for me. I do kind of eat in this restaurant all over the world and they do know me. He was very snotty, very British. I finally had to break out the motherfucker word and that’s when he got it, oh he’s serious. It was like, look motherfucker, it’s just this simple. Either give me a table now or I call somebody and I have your fucking job, okay? Oh, okay. Right this way.
What’s the strangest encounter you’ve had with a fan?
Girls ask me to sign their titties at a club, actually pull their titty out in the middle of a club and I just say put that away. The rudest thing was walking down the street in Chicago with my wife and these two girls recognized me and they just grabbed me. I kind of stopped and my wife says, don’t pull him like that. And the girl was like, no you don’t understand! And my wife was like, yeah I do understand you’re excited but you can’t grab him like that. And she’s like, just shut up. Before I knew it my wife was ready to punch this girl and she has a 5, 6, 7 carat diamond on and she’s ready to punch this girl. She’ll own that diamond. We’ll be in court and she’ll have your diamond. People can be very rude like. There’s some kind of rule of possession because they pay money to see you and they have a right to do certain things just like you have to stop, you have to take a picture with me. All of the sudden we become this weird picture taking culture. Everybody’s got a camera or everybody’s got a camera on their cell phone. No, it’s not just a picture. People don’t understand there a lot of crazy people out here. Especially, I hate to say this, especially certain kinds of women. You take pictures with women and you don’t know where they’re going to end up. You go in a grocery store and there you are on the cover of some tabloid and somebody’s got ‘my crazy night with Sam Jackson.’ You go, who the hell is that. You may remember, oh that’s that girl I took a picture with in the middle of the street in London. You have no idea or whatever and she sold the story and you don’t know anything about it but the next thing you know you’ve gotta be in court spending a lot of money to get rid of some bullshit story that you know nothing about because people are that crazy.
That happened to Leonardo not long ago with that prostitution thing in France. He just happened to stop in the hall and take a picture with these girls and they happened to be hookers. They were investigating them about some other guys and then they investigated the whole thing and found out that he just happened to be walking down the hall and they took a picture with him but they took his picture. You say no and people don’t understand that you can’t let everybody take your picture. Sometimes you explain that you can’t let everybody take your picture. Sometimes you try to explain it by saying that if I let you do it I’ve gotta let everybody here who’s got a camera do it. It’s never just one. As soon as you take one picture you might as well be doing a photo opp at a place. Everybody’s reaching for their bags, pulling out cameras. If it’s a kid, you really feel kind of strange. I have this whole new fan base with kids. I understand kids and people wanting their kids to take pictures and kids having the whole kind of hero worship so you’ve gotta have a soft spot. You let kids do it especially if there aren’t that many kids around. Then you take the picture with the kid and the mom goes well I want one and somebody else goes. . . Look. It’s your kid. I don’t want to start a thing with everybody else in here wanting to take a picture. All of the sudden the whole family’s in the picture so now we’re taking the Christmas card, right?
What did you make more money off of: Your role in Jungle Fever or your settlement with the City of New York after you were dragged by a subway train?
Definitely City of New York.
What happened with that?
Wow. It’s almost the anniversary of that. I was riding the A train late at night. I was getting off the train and there was a woman in front of me who had some shopping bags and she got off the train and one of the bags broke. She had a bunch of stuff. I stopped, very un-New York like, and helped her pick up her stuff. When the doors on the train closed I had one foot on the train and one on the platform and the train closed on my ankle and the train took off. I’m kind of hopping along and luckily for me I was in the middle door of the last car and as the train built up speed and took off I was snatched off my feet and my body twisted, ripped all the shit in my knee, I’m being dragged along dodging the poles, can’t get my shoe off, and eventually somebody pulled the emergency cord and stopped the train. I didn’t find out until a year and a half later when I was in court that the reason it took so long was that the guy who pulled the cord was on crutches.
What ended up happening with the city?
I sued the city, it took me almost a year and a half to get to court, two years. By then I had finally started to work regularly and the lawyer for the city thought he was trying OJ. The conductor lied, number one. He said my foot didn’t get caught in the door. He had to come down and key the door to get my foot out and there were two transit cops there chasing me down the track. They had their notes on the whole thing. Why he lied is because he was supposed to watch his train all the way out of the station. I had a red jacket on, you couldn’t miss me. They had the jacket in court totally ripped up from being dragged. Luckily I had a backpack on which kept me from getting ripped up worse. He was trying to say I was trying to get rich off the city. I’m just trying to get you to pay the insurance company for ripping up my knee. He was trying to prove that I’d become rich and famous since I’d gotten dragged. Yeah, but not as a result of being dragged. He started talking about first he brought up White Sands—is this not you running across the desert? He showed the juries clips of all these films. Is this not you running across the desert running from these helicopters and falling down these sand dunes? Well, yeah, but so what? I’m 80% okay. Is this you falling violently to your knees in Jungle Fever? Well, not really. There’s a pad on the floor and there’s foam rubber and I’ve got knee pads on. Don’t make me bring Spike Lee to court! What are you talking about? Whatever you need to do. It was a crazy thing. Nobody was in the courtroom. The judge hated him, the jury hated him, everybody hated him. I wasn’t suing him for millions of dollars.
What did you end up doing with the settlement?
I paid off my brownstone in New York and we had moved her. We put a down payment on our house here.
Is that the closest you’ve ever come to death?
No. I’ve been in a few hair raising incidents. I was driving my mom’s car once and this person came out of nowhere. I guess this person was drunk. They came across the highway straight at me and I veered off the road to avoid getting hit. I was looking at the person coming at me and when I looked out of the windshield to see where I was there was a telephone pole right in front of the car. I panicked and I turned the steering wheel loose and I ducked under the dashboard to avoid the impact and there was never any impact. When I sat up the telephone pole was still in front of the car. When I looked out the side window, the street was like twenty feet below me. I realized, in Tennessee the telephone poles have these steel wires that come off at an angle so the car had actually jumped the curb and gone straight up this wire. The car is sitting perfectly balanced on this wire but just as I realized that the car starts tilting sideways. So I’m like, oh no! I’m going to be crushed in this car! I duck again and the car slides straight down the wire and lands on all four tires. It bent the car right in the middle. There was that time. Then there were a few times people shot at me.
Sounds like shit straight out of a Road Runner cartoon. What happened?
Getting shot at, being in places where people came in to rob drug dealers and I was just kind of sitting around in there getting high and there are people shooting, me being the only person in a gunfight with no gone. Running from the police back in the ‘60s and being shot at by cops in Atlanta, firebombing places I shouldn’t have been, getting caught. Being with a friend, we were firebombing something one night because these places were being built by some people we thought were politically incorrect people and we were revolutionaries so we were firebombing these buildings. We had poured gas all over this place and for some reason my friend lit the fucking room. I was in the middle of it. I was like, hey! He was on the outside and he threw the match back in the room, torches it. The room goes up and I’m in the center of it, all this paper shit, everything’s going up all around me, my pants are halfway going up and I’m trying to beat my pants out and trying to go out a window because of him. Think! Think!
You got your ass handed to you by drugs too.
I lost. I successfully used drugs for twenty-some years before I started smoking cocaine. It’s just one of those things you can’t beat. Everything else I did was a thrill ride and lots of fun and doing acid was great, snorting cocaine, doing speed was great and everything was great until I started smoking cocaine. Smoking cocaine became a task, an obsession, something that was more or less something that was beating me up rather than bringing me up. I just couldn’t take it any more.
How did you know you’d hit that point?
When I started not being social when I was getting high. I enjoyed getting high with people and hanging out and having fun and all the sudden I didn’t want to share or be in the company of people when I was doing it and I was ashamed of what I was doing and I didn’t want people to know it and that’s how I knew.
How did you know you’d hit bottom?
I didn’t really know. Someone else found me passed out in the kitchen on the floor. My wife, daughter, and they called the guy who was the drug counselor and found a place for me where I woke up.
(publicist comes in and tries to shut me down)
Who’s the coolest black guy in the Star Wars universe: You or Lando Calrissian. Remember, Lando does own Cloud City.
But that don’t make him cool. That just makes him an entrepreneur. I think Mace is actually because he has a sense of zen and a greater sense of self.
Also, how come you are the only two black people in the galaxy? What do you do for female companionship?
We can have anybody. We’re very open.
Twisted used to be called Blackout because Ashley Judd suffers from blackouts in which she might be killing people. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done that you couldn’t remember the next morning?
I don’t know because I couldn’t remember it. It’s kind of hard to say. There are a lot of things that fall under that category that I’m sure if I could remember them I’d get in a lot of trouble about. I did used to have a lot of trouble finding my car the next day, though.
One of your wife’s distant cousins is Justin Guarini from American Idol. Can you please critique his performance in From Justin to Kelly.
Didn’t see it.
You were Bill Cosby’s stand in on the Cosby Show. Does that mean you got to wear his sweaters?
All the time.
(how did Cos treat you?)
Actually very well. I was the kind of stand in that was invisible. I went to work, I did my job, I didn’t try to ingratiate myself with Mr. Cosby or any of the kids or I didn’t try to find a way to get on the show or be an actor on the show. I just kind of went in and did what I was supposed to do and stayed out of the way. Consequently he respected me for doing my job and not trying to get more out of that job than I wanted and so I became what I became. I was surprised he even remembered I was that guy. He treated me quite well.
When can we see Sam Jackson teaming up with Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan for an adorable romantic comedy?
Sandy’s possible. Meg I’ve never met. Sandy and I like each other. We have a good relationship. That’d be a nice pairing.