Samuel L. Jackson Interviewed: Discusses Hip Hop and Comics For the Premiere of Afro Samurai
21 years ago, Samuel L. Jackson snagged a bit part as Leeds in Spike Lee's School Daze. Since then, the prolific Tennessean has appeared in roughly 70 films -- some of them good (Kill Bill, Do the Right Thing, Hard 8,), some not so good (S.W.A.T, Amos and Andrew, Deep Blue Sea), and some that can only be classified as "ironically awesome" (Great White Hype, Snakes on a Plane, Deep Blue Sea).
Yet no role was more iconic than Pulp Fiction, where Jackson owned the role of jheri-curl dripping Jules Winnfield, a hit man with a wallet that read, "Bad Mother Fucker."
That article of celluloid trivia is essential to explaining what it's like to meet Samuel Jackson -- because there aren't many people who can convincingly carry a "Bad Mother Fucker" wallet. Jackson, even at 60-years-old, is one of them. Dude's as cool as the plates of cold cuts stacked high in the adjacent room on the second floor of the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Jackson's here to give the soft shoe to the hired geeks grilling him with somnolent questions about the Spike TV Season Premiere of the Jackson-voiced (and executive produced), Afro Samurai. Along with it, we're supposed to ask questions about Afro's video game tie-in and its RZA-curated soundtrack. There's enough vertical integration at hand to make Andrew Carnegie swoon.
In person, Jackson is exactly what you'd expect: the politeness of a Southerner; the affability of a great actor, the spontaneity of a quick wit; and a streak of authenticity that has allowed him to survive consanguinity to the most execrable episodes of our generation and, still unanimously deserve and possess our respect.
Most actors of his stature cruise control through these flack-flocked meet and greets, coughing out recycled stock line after line. Not Jackson, who thankfully wasn't above playfully mocking the most asinine queries of the assembled 4th Estaters. Who could blame him? There was a girl in there sipping Fiji Water with a straw. And me -- sitting next to Mister Senor Love Daddy., Gator Purify, the Afro-Samurai himself -- rocking his trademark newsboy cap, clear coke-bottle glasses and a dapper salt and pepper beard. I kept on looking down at the floor because the whole thing was pretty awkward. These round table press conferences can get oppressively dull. Then I noticed Jackson's shoes, an incredibly cool looking pair of silver and black Adidas sneaks. Even at twice our age, Jackson was still styling harder than any of us. Which makes sense, because no matter how nicely he answers your questions, you never forget that the dude's a bad mother fucker.
How did you guys get RZA onboard?
We sent him a few clips of the show's animation and the RZA is so into martial arts that
it struck him and he thought that scoring the show would be awesome.
Do you listen to a lot of Wu-Tang?
Any favorite Wu albums?
No, none in particular.
Do you listen to a lot of rap in general?
What kind of music do you listen to?
I actually do listen to a lot of hip hop, but only when I'm driving. I just don't buy
a lot of it.
Anything in particular you've been listening in your car?
Whatever's in rotation...you know that TI song, [starts singing], "You
can have whatever you like." I know that song, it amazes people when I
start singing it to them, it's infectious. Actually, I listen to a lot
of reggae and world music. Whenever I'm traveling I just buy music. I
actually bought a lot of music in Morocco, [starts hilariously
imitating Moroccan music]. Six or 7 hours worth I vibe to it before I
go to sleep
Did you consult a lot with [creator] Takashi Okazaki during the development process?
I kept on bugging him about the comic. I'd e-mail him every week,
"where's the pages...where's the pages." Every now and then, I'd catch
him on Skype walk and he'd tell me all the things he'd been doing and
I'd be like, 'work on the comic.' We also had this big blessing
ceremony, where they blessed the project. We dressed as samurai and
they took us to this place in a rickshaw, to a building thousands of
years old. It was all wood, every nail was wood, and they brought the
oldest geishas they could find in Japan to dance for us, plus a sword
ceremony and they sprinkled sacred water. It must've worked, because
here we are.
Did you ever dream of being a samurai when you were a kid?
We don't have those kind of dreams in Tennessee. When I was a kid, we got
guns for Christmas and we used to play cowboys and Indians with cap
guns. As I got older and a read more, I decided I wanted to be a
pirate. Anything that was exotic and could take me away from
Chattanooga, Long John Silver...all that stuff. I discovered Asian
culture at a certain point and it was very appealing to me. The
exoticism of China and Japan, and the concept of different worlds: the
bushido world, with its samurai culture and what it means to be
loyal--the concept of death not being the end of your life. It made me
want to experiment and see and be a part of it.
It's like anything that you imagine, the reality is always much bigger.
It reminds me of when young actors ask you what it's like to fulfill your
dreams of being a movie star. It's hard to say that the dream is
fulfilled, because the dram was smaller than the reality. You don't
know what the reality is. Like, last weekend was the Golden Globes and
I'm sure there were young actors sitting at home dreaming about going
to the Golden Globes and wearing a tuxedo. Being movie star is way
bigger than going to the Golden Globes. There are responsibilities that
you have. Audiences expect certain things from you, you lose your
anonymity, when your go home, what your friends think of you. The
people that hated you growing up hate you more. The girls you couldn't
get, now you can get them but you don't want them anymore. The reality
is always different than the dream.
Games have come under fire for their violent content. Do you feel this is justified?
That's what we're built on: the freedom to create, Maybe there are people
reacting to Saw 4 out there, but people steal cars, shoot other people...
people do stuff and they understand that video games are different than
real life. Life doesn't imitate art in that way and art doesn't imitate
life in that way. I wouldn't censor anything, though maybe I'd stop
young kids from playing the violent games. It's a parental
responsibility thing. People need to pay attention to what their kids
are doing; they need to make themselves aware. When my daughter was
growing up and she was interested in a certain type of band, I made it
my business to find out who this Weezer was, or who these guys Green
Day were. When she wanted to go to KROQ Acoustic Christmas, I went with
her, to see who these people were. I used to make her watch Rocky and
Bullwinkle. It turned out to be a good thing for her, she loved it. I
got her intro George of the Jungle before the movie. I had all these
Twilight Zone laser discs, and she'd watch those too. If you talk to
your kids in a normal sensible way they understand what's real and
what's not and what's right and what's wrong. Your kid can't have a
room in your house that you can't go in. [imitates a teenager]. 'You
can't go in my room.' 'Well, you can't live in my fucking house.'
What appeal do you think your show holds for hip-hop fans and why do you think the two worlds are synergistic?
It's a world that moves to the beat of that music and you can feel that vibe
to it. There's a sort of sexiness to it. It's the kind of world where
the women are as tough or as lethal as the men. There's no black or
white racial divide, just people trying to live, struggling between
life and death.