Samuel L. Jackson is sitting on the top of the world, so to speak. It’s late Sunday morning, and after wrapping up an intense press conference for “Django Unchained,” Jackson is ready to hold court for interviews on the top floor of a luxurious suite at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Feet propped up on the coffee table, it’s hard to believe that almost 12 hours earlier Jackson set off a flurry of controversy during a guest appearance on “SNL” by dropping the F-bomb. While most celebrities would have their publicist drafting a public apology for offending viewers’ delicate sensibilities, Jackson seems to thrive in the midst of these types of chaotic events.
In his latest role in “Django”, Jackson is out to push more buttons as the cunning house slave Stephen, who is out to destroy Django’s (Jamie Foxx) quest to save his lady love Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). TheUrbanDaily.com sat down with one of Hollywood’s most outspoken actors about his controversial role, working with fellow bad boy Quentin Tarantino, gun control and his thoughts on the recent shootings at Newton, CT.
TUD: When your character Stephen first came on the screen my first thought was “That’s Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks!”
Samuel L. Jackson: Oh no! He is not a reference.
In your opinion, who makes the worse House Negro—Stephen or Uncle Ruckus?
Samuel L. Jackson: It’s Stephen. He has the power of life or death over a lot of people. Stephen is feared not just by the black people on the plantation but the whites also. Stephen is the power behind the throne. Stephen has power, Uncle Ruckus has no power.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Calvin and your Stephen seem to be a dark, comic tag team. How much did you and Leonardo work on your relationship?
That’s what was on the page. All we had to do was add some physicality to it. If you pay attention, Calvin has been raised by Stephen. Calvin is more a reflection of Stephen than he is of anything else. When you finally see them alone in the library you realize that Calvin is a little subservient to Stephen. He obeys and listens to him. When they’re out in public Stephen lets him be who he’s supposed to be–the master. But when it comes down to it Stephen is the guy who knows what’s going on. Calvin ain’t the brightest candle in the room (chuckles).
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Tarantino said that when he watched “Roots” he felt that it was an inauthentic, watered down version of slavery in the U.S. What are your thoughts on Tarantino’s comments? Do you think it’s fair to compare “Django Unchained” to “Roots”?
It’s not a comparison. It’s an extension of that story in another way. “Roots” was about (Alex Haley) tracing his family, not about showing the atrocities of slavery–just minor in terms of “If you run off we’ll hobble you.” But it didn’t spend time dealing with that kind of stuff. It dealt with the genealogy of his family.
“Django” is trip through the horror because this is the story that Dr. King Schultz tells Django about Siegfried and Broomhilda. The mountain that he has to climb is slavery. And that’s a huge, ugly crazy mountain that you’re in that you have to tread lightly to get there. There will be fire breathing dragon at the entrance of the cave happens to be Calvin Candie and Stephen.
This is your fifth time working with Tarantino. How do you feel he’s evolved as a director?
He’s always been pretty much the same director to me actually. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of film genres and film history, scenes and dialogue. He’s always known what he wants his films to be and how he wants them to look, and how to pace his stories. He’s still as complete and as open artistically when it comes to giving us freedom in the space to make sure we get it done. So, no he hasn’t changed that much.
Why is Hollywood resistant to green light more slave narratives from the slave perspective?
Because ya’ll don’t pay money to see them.
When you say “y’all” you mean…?
Black audiences. Historically they haven’t. There’s another slave movie coming after this, “12 Years A Slave”, and that’ll have a different kind of look at it. Because Steve McQueen is (makes air quotes) an “auteur” it will have a different cache. It won’t be the excitement of a Blaxploitation Western.
”Django” is ”Shaft” on horseback. He’s killing Whitey everywhere. It’s like the movies we used to go to. Same kind of movies Quentin used to see when he was a kid. His Black neighbor used to take him to see them. That’s why he loves Truck Turner and Pam Grier. He’s in that “Kill Whitey” mode, too.
There’s a difference between watching a film with an audience like you watching it with movie critics as opposed to the Magic Johnson theater audience. Because they (critics) are sitting there saying “I feel so bad being a White person.” Meanwhile Black people are gonna be sitting there saying “Yeah, kill his ass!” They gonna hate my ass and talk back to the screen. I don’t even know how to say this…but hopefully the people who go and see Madea will go and see this and have as much fun as they do watching that. This will appeal to that audience that the studios say they don’t know how to get, but somehow Tyler has done it.
I remember reading that Jamie showed Tyler Perry the screenplay and he was a little hesitant about the project.
Yeah, he[Perry] was a little bent out of shape about the screenplay. “Does he have to say ‘n*gger’ so much?” Well, they didn’t’ call has nothing else but that back then. It’s kind of like African-American wasn’t there, Negro wasn’t there, Colored definitely wasn’t used…we was n*ggers. We gotta be true to the time and say it.
Someone asked me ‘When was the first time someone called you a n*gger?” From what I remember it was probably my grandmother when I was about a year old. If I remember it right, she said ”N*gger you crazy” and slapped [me] on the hand because I had touched something. When folk get caught up in it, I say it’s all about the context. If somebody is saying it in anger to me then I get where they’re coming from, I got a problem with it. If it’s some Chinese kids talking to each other on the subway saying “N*gga please,” keep going.
You did an anti-gun PSA in Britain. What do you think we can do in the United Stated given what just happened in Connecticut. Do you think the Second Amendment should be changed?
SJ: Let’s keep guns out of the hands of crazy people. I grew up in a gun culture. I grew up in Tennessee. I have guns in my house. I believe you have the right to have one. Guns don’t kill people, crazy people kill people. It’s all about the person whose hands the gun is in. If you’ve been raised right and you understand and value human life you don’t go out and shoot people. We need to deal with the face that they are changing the laws and putting crazy people back on the streets and not getting them the kind of help that they need.
(Watch the Samuel L. Jackson Anti-Gun PSA below)
What would you say to black moviegoers who are on the fence about seeing “Django”?
It’s entertainment. It’s an adventure love story. If you like love stories and you like adventure, you’ll like “Django”.
“Django Unchained” opens in theaters nationwide December 25th.
ReBecca Theodore-Vachon is a Film/TV columnist for The Urban Daily. You can find her on Twitter: @FilmFatale_NYC
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