Q&A: Samuel L. Jackson

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Samuel L. Jackson has come a long way since the days when he and other Morehouse College students held up the board of trustees to protest the absence of a black studies program. Now any such program would have to feature Jackson himself -- not least for what Frank Miller, who directed Jackson in his new film "The Spirit," calls his "unwavering positive view of life" and his "sheer masculine force."

The American Cinematheque is honoring the actor for a body of work that includes "Do the Right Thing" (1989), "Pulp Fiction" (1994) and the latest "Star Wars" trilogy.


The Hollywood Reporter: You're doing a lot of producing. Tell us about your projects.

Samuel L. Jackson: I have a first-look deal with New Line, which sort of started when New Line wasn't being New Line anymore. I haven't really had a chance to get anything produced there, but I still have my production company, Uppity Films. We're looking at projects and hoping to be refinanced by some other people so we can continue. And I have a first-look television development deal with CBS, which is really amazing to me because television is so fast. Having dealt with films all my life, and realizing that films go into development for five, six years, for someone to say, "Sure, let's do it immediately" is amazing. (But) I'm still trying to find an exec to run the company. I had a deal with someone that fell through because she couldn't get out of a contract. Hopefully, when we get that person in place, everything will take off pretty lickety-split.

THR: What sort of television programming are you drawn to?

Jackson: I have two ideas that are about to come to fruition. One's a cop show, and the other one is sort of a supernatural show about these immortal women -- it's four women that were placed here at the beginning of time to guard us against the forces of evil. And they have personal lives that we'll get involved in, which will be strange from women who are thousands of years old and who've had relationships with people throughout history. And the cop show, we're actually trying to figure out if we can set in a city like Atlanta, because that's a place we haven't seen, and there's two very different guys who have just become detectives. One has been a detective who's been in an undercover situation for about five years, and the other one has been a beat cop.

THR: Do you like television?

Jackson: It's really amazing to people that I watch as much television as I do, but I grew up watching TV. I've been a TV junkie since I was a kid, and I sort of remember the glory days of television, when I was watching Westerns and great comedians like Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle. And television like "Peter Gunn" and "M Squad" and "The Untouchables" and "Father Knows Best." We don't have shows that are comparable to those anymore.

THR: Is it tougher now? You've got the Internet, and everything's multiplatform.

Jackson: It's a new and untested frontier, but some people are savvy in it, and they're finding ways to do well-produced shows that are interesting. Kids aren't as mystified by the process as we used to be. Kids know how to make movies; they know how to make TV shows. All they know how to do is turn the camera on and throw a Web site up, and they're good to go. So I'm trying to catch that bandwagon, too, and I'm also trying to do some stuff with anime from Japan.

THR: With all this producing, you're still active as an actor. Tell us a little about "The Spirit."

Jackson: I've been trying to work with Frank Miller for a while -- and trying to acquire one of his properties. I spent a lot of time in comic book stores, always have, since I was a kid, and I was never able to contact him, but he knew of my interest. When they did "Sin City," I was talking to Quentin (Tarantino) and I told him, "How can you do this thing and I'm not in it?" And he told Frank, and Frank was impressed that I even, you know, knew what it was and wanted to be a part of it. So when "The Spirit" came up, he said I was the person that he thought of to play the Octopus.

THR: Are you going to do "Inglourious Bastards" with Quentin Tarantino?

Jackson: I hope so. I talked to him before he left for Germany, and I read the script, and there was one black person in the script who spoke French, so when he called me, he was trying to find out if I knew any black actors in France. (Laughs.) Well, yeah: Me! If you take me over there, I'll be there! But he needs to speak French. I can learn, phonetically or something. But he wanted somebody authentic, so I gave him a couple of names of guys that I thought would be great. Hopefully, when he comes back, there will be some aspect of the film that I can throw my voice in there and do something.

THR: You're also doing a film called "Blown."

Jackson: That's a British film that Martha Fiennes is directing that may go early next year. I think the guy's an arms dealer. I read, like, seven scripts a week, so it's been eight months since I read that script. The movie comes up, and then they go, "Well, we're not ready yet." They had Guy Pearce for a while, and now they don't, and they had Thandie Newton, (and) now they don't -- so I have no idea what's going on with that film. All you do is say you'll do it, and you hope people are ready when they say they're ready.

THR: You're known as one of the busiest guys in the business. When do you get some downtime?

Jackson: Actually, I've been off work since March. Mainly because everybody was worried about the work stoppage that might happen, so there were no studio films going. And the independent films that I was doing, once the economy started going wonky, people started losing their financing, and money was kind of going away and coming back. In fact, somebody told me the other day that out of all the films that were shown at the Toronto Film Festival, only two of them have gotten distribution. But, yeah, it's a money situation, but I'm about to go to work. I was actually supposed to go to work tomorrow, to start a film called "Unthinkable." (It's a) story about a guy that's planted three nuclear devices in three different cities in the U.S., and they're trying to find them, and they bring my character in to extract the information. I'm the guy who will probably do the unthinkable to get the information.
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