TARANTINO’S LEADING MAN: Great profile of Samuel L. Jackson on New York magazine’s Vulture site today, concentrating on his history with director Quentin Tarantino. Six collaborations and a quarter century of working together have produced some memorable characters.
Before their first film PULP FICTION, Sam had auditioned for Quentin for RESERVOIR DOGS. Sam was a seasoned theater veteran at this point, and had just burst onto big screens in Spike Lee’s JUNGLE FEVER, for which Sam had just won the Best Supporting Actor award at Cannes.
“He’d shown up to casting for this unknown screenwriter’s first feature having memorized a scene he thought he’d be playing with Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel,” writes Jada Yuan..”Instead, he got stuck reading with two bozos he’d never seen before, who didn’t know their lines and couldn’t stop laughing. ‘I didn’t realize it was Quentin, the director-writer, and Lawrence Bender, the producer,’ says Jackson, ‘but I knew that the audition was not very good.’ He didn’t get the job.”
“It wasn’t until RESERVOIR DOGS’ notorious premiere at the Sundance Film Festival the following January that Jackson saw Tarantino again. Half the audience had fled amid all that gleeful gore; Jackson went up afterward to shake Tarantino’s hand. ‘He’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember you. How’d you like the guy who got your part?’ ’ says Jackson. ‘I was like, ‘Really? I think you would have had a better movie with me in it.’ '(Let it be known that Jackson’s well-honed Tarantino impression sounds like an unholy amalgam of Gollum, Joe Pesci in GoodFellas, and the Looney Tunes Road Runner.)”
This clip from INSIDE THE ACTOR’S STUDIO features Sam doing his impression of Quentin, whom he calls “Mr. Enthusiasm.”
Vulture continues the story: Two weeks after the RESERVOIR DOGS premiere, “a brown paper package arrived. The images of two gangsters were printed on the front, and a note inside read, ‘If you show this script to anyone, we’ll show up at your door next week and kill you.’ It was Pulp Fiction, whose Bible-quoting hit man ‘in a transitional period,’ Jules Winnfield, would make Jackson a household name at age 46. But only after someone in casting greeted Jackson as ‘Mr. Fishburne,’ and he got so pissed off he murdered his audition.” The rest is history. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in PULP FICTION. As Jules Winnfield in PULP FICTION.
Jackson’s next Tarantino character was the arms dealer Ordell Robbie in JACKIE BROWN, which is Sam’s favorite role in the Tarantino-verse. “I think he would be a great guy to hang out with — as long as you didn’t cross him,” Jackson says. In JACKIE BROWN.
These roles are remarkable for their variety, and spring from a relationship between director and actor that transcends the normal definition of those roles. The two “are the cinematic equivalent of an old married couple,” writes Yuan. “‘Quentin and I have a kind of cinematic affinity,’ says Jackson. They discovered it on the set of Pulp Fiction when Jackson was doing his usual binge of Asian movies. ‘Quentin would walk by my trailer, and he would always hear the sounds of either kung-fu fighting or bullets going off, and he would look in the door and say, ‘What are you watching?’ ’ says Jackson. They also realized they’d both spent much of their comic-book-obsessed childhoods in Tennessee in the care of their grandparents, and to this day they do regular movie nights at Tarantino’s house, because, says Jackson, ‘he’s got a bigger theater.’ ”
The next movie from the pair is THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Jackson plays Major Marquis Warren, an ex-slave and veteran of the Union Army. The film is both a shoot-’em-up and a whodunit. Tarantino and Jackson have taken to calling Marquis “Hercule Negro, like Hercule Poirot,” says Jackson, “because he is a bit of a detective.” As Major Marquis Warren in THE HATEFUL EIGHT.
Tim Roth sums up the creative collaboration between Jackson and Tarantino: “It feels, to me, that Quentin’s leading man is Sam,” says Roth, an original Reservoir Dog and a member of the Hateful Eight. “And I think that’s an extraordinary circumstance, for a white man, however talented, to be able to write for a leading man, a black actor, and give him such a range of roles.”