HEAT VISION

Samuel L. Jackson on How M. Night Shyamalan Mellowed From Being a "Dictator" Director

On the set of 2000's 'Unbreakable,' the filmmaker would give the star line readings: "Don't blink. Don't move. Just say the words."
Samuel Jackson in 'Glass'   |   Courtesy of Universal Pictures
On the set of 2000's 'Unbreakable,' the filmmaker would give the star line readings: "Don't blink. Don't move. Just say the words."

For Samuel L. Jackson, working on Glass was a markedly different experience than his previous collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan 19 years earlier.

Jackson once again plays the Elijah Price (aka Mr. Glass) in the film, which is Shyamalan's long-gestating follow-up to both Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2017).

When Jackson first worked with him, Shyamalan was a wunderkind fresh off The Sixth Sense (1999), which earned $677 million globally and garnered six Oscar nominations, including writing and directing mentions for the filmmaker. Unbreakable studio Disney was willing to give him an ample budget to support his vision. Among Shyamalan's requests: the expensive proposition of shooting the film in sequence.  

"It was kind of crazy. I worked like 13 days, but I was in [Philadelphia] for two-and-a-half months," Jackson says during an interview for this week's The Hollywood Reporter cover story. "They had to keep all those locations intact for two-and-a-half months."

Working with Shyamalan in those days proved somewhat challenging for the actor.

"He used to be a really harsh dictator. He's mellowed," Jackson says of the filmmaker. "He used to say, 'Do it like this.' And then he would tell you, 'Do it this way. Don't blink. Don't move. Just say the words.' And you'd say the words and he'd go, 'No. Don't emphasize that word. Emphasize this word.'

For years, Jackson would rib Shyamalan about the possibility of doing an Unbreakable sequel, as the director originally told him it'd be a trilogy.

"I always assumed that the studio looked at it as a failure because it didn't make as much money as the 'I see dead people' movie," the actor says, referencing The Sixth Sense.

Then, two years ago, Shyamalan told Jackson to go watch his latest movie, Split, without telling him it was a secret sequel to Unbreakable. (A post-credits scene reveals Bruce Willis' David Dunn and references Mr. Glass.) He soon agreed to reprise his role opposite Willis.

This time around, Jackson wasn't subjected to Shyamalan giving him line readings.

"I did it the way I wanted to do it," says the actor. "He would go, 'You want to do it another way?' I'd go, 'No. Because you go to the editing room. I don't. You like the way you want me to do it. You're going to look at that first. I'm not going give you that option.'"

A few months after Glass' Jan. 18 release date, Jackson will be in theaters again in Captain Marvel, in which he will reprise his role as superspy Nick Fury for the ninth time, appearing opposite Brie Larson, who stars as the titular superhero.

Jackson was impressed by the physical work Larson put into the role, and she shared videos with him of her early workouts.

"I was, like, 'She's insane! What are you doing? Are you pushing a car up a hill? What the hell? What's going on?'" recalls Jackson. "She sacrificed."

The marketing for Captain Marvel has sold the film partially on the buddy-comedy relationship between Fury and Captain Marvel, and Jackson says working with Larson previously on projects such as 2017's Kong: Skull Island allowed them to develop a shorthand.

"We're strangers when you meet us [in Captain Marvel]," says the actor. "But the creation of our relationship in that movie is very genuine and very honest so that by the end of it, you really think these two people care about each other."

Jackson is digitally de-aged for Captain Marvel, which takes place in 1995. He first was introduced to CGI-heavy filmmaking thanks on 1999's Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, in which he played Jedi master Mace Windu. Director George Lucas told him the key to interacting with things that weren't really there was knowing what questions to ask.

"He said, 'You need to know how big is it, where is it, how fast is it,'" recalls Jackson. "And I was, like, 'Okay. How big is it?' He said, 'Uh, about an SUV.' 'How fast is it?' 'Mmm, 40 miles an hour.' 'And where is it?' 'Coming straight at you.'"

Jackson says it made him feel like a kid in his room, fighting imaginary bad guys, and that Lucas noted that the more moves he showed off, the more things the animators would create to match his lightsaber fighting.

In the years since, technology has made it possible for actors to live on in movies after their deaths. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  (2016) resurrected Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin more than 20 years after the actor's death, while Star Wars: Episode IX, due out in December, will utilize unused footage of the late Carrie Fisher to make her General Leia a character in the film.

How would Jackson feel about being digitally re-created someday?

"Awesome," he says. 

For more from Jackson, read his THR cover story here

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