Welcome to another edition of Spotlight On, a feature which focuses on some of the most influential members of the movie industry and gives you a little insight into their career.
This week, we take a look at Samuel L Jackson; a kick-ass, foul mouthed, joke making, super-spy, snake hating actor who has risen to great heights in his vast career. Jackson is seldom from our screens, being the go to actor for roles that break down of stereotypes and are full of badassery. Marvel even based the Ultimate Universe of Nick Fury off of Jackson, which later led to him being cast as the super spy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But don’t let his tough exterior fool you, he is easily one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood.
Samuel demonstrated an interest in the arts from his days in college. Rather than moving straight into the film industry, he developed his craft through performing in plays. Jackson was involved in several criminal and federal incidents amounting to his arrest around the time of the Civil Rights movement. The significance of his history of involvement in the Civil Rights movement and association with Black Power have made him a vocal advocate for the rights of African Americans to this day.
In the 1976’s Jackson moved to New York appearing in stage plays The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running. Unfortunately Jackson’s career to stardom met another hurdle in the form of cocaine and alcohol addiction. He continued to battle his addiction, however was able to begin his film career in the early 1980’s.
Jackson’s rise to fame was a slow process, often only playing very minor roles in some well performing movies like Coming to America, Goodfellas and School Daze. It was in this early point in his career that Jackson became the mentee for a fellow actor who had made a huge name for himself, Morgan Freeman. Jackson made several other movie and television appearances throughout the 1980’s , giving consisted exposure but minimal performances. It was at this point in his career his drug and alcohol addiction took a turn for the worse, making him attend a rehabilitation clinic. While one of the darkest times for Samuel, it also resulted in a grand opportunity to have a prominent supporting role in the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever.The film dealt with topics of racism and drug use, two topics that Jackson was more than familiar with and felt it was easy to transition into character as he has experienced addiction himself. In the film he played Gator, a crack addict and brother of main character Flipper, played by Wesley Snipes. Jackson’s performance was met with critical acclaim, with an award for Supporting Actor being made just for him at Cannes Film Festival in 1991.
After his performance in Jungle Fever Jackson became an in demand actor, landing roles in several major Hollywood blockbusters. He appeared alongside Harrison Ford in Patriot Games (one of my favourite movies ever!) and had a supporting role in the smash hit Jurassic Park where he unfortunately got eaten by a Raptor. Jackson also landed his first starring role in the National Lampoons comedy, Loaded Weapon alongside 90’s poster boy Emilio Esteves. Naturally, being a National Lampoons movie without Chevy Chase, it was not received well. His next break was during filming of True Romance. Jackson that caught the eye of the script writer who contacted him looking to get him to star in his next movie. That man was Quentin Tarantino. The two would go on to make movie magic together for years to come.
I Dare You
While Jungle Fever introduced the world to Jackson, Pulp Fiction will forever be the role that launched his career into the stratosphere. Supported by an all star cast of John Travolta, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman, Jackson stands out as hitman Jules Winnfield. The film won many awards and nominations, along with Jackson winning a BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actor. The profanity and bible quotes introduced the world to a badass character that will forever be remembered, while setting the tone of his career to follow for the coming decades. We also got some of the best one liners, monologues and soliloquies in movie history!
Continuing With a Vengence
Jackson’s next standout role came a year later in 1995 in the third instalment of the Die Hard Franchise, Die Hard: With a Vengeance where he played Zeus Harver, a store owner in Harlem. While it was not as hard hitting as Jules, Jackson still managed to swear his way through the movie without becoming a stereotype. Jackson’s growth as an actor established him as a leading man, landing three big starring roles in 1998. Standing opposite big name actors like Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator, Sharon Stone and Dustin Hoffman in Sphere, Jackson continued to showcase his versatility as an actor, not being restricted to only playing the residential badass.
Mace The Force Be Windu
The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy are polarising to geeks and nerds everywhere, often critically panned for terrible dialogue and acting, along with a plot that is far too coincidental and political. However, one of the best things to come out of the prequels was Samuel as Jedi Mace Windu. Jackson captivated the audience every time he spoke, displaying gravitas and heeding warning. His performance made you listen to the exposition heavy jedi council scenes. It was the complete opposite from the actor who was known for swearing and verbal tirades, again showing that the actor is capable of a soft side. He would go on to reprise the role for the entire prequel trilogy before his fate is left ambiguous in Revenge of the Sith (come on, we didn’t see him hit the ground and he’s a Jedi, it’s totally plausible he survived!) There have been talks of giving Mace a solo movie with Jackson reprising the role. Given that Marvel are releasing a Mace Windu comic outlining his history, this would seem unlikely.
Watch Out For Snakes
Jackson is notorious for accepting movie roles, seldom turning down the opportunity to be in a movie. Throughout the mid 2000’s Jackson made movies in various genres from animated to B-grade horror. His most notable movies from this time were the Disney Pixar film The Incredibles where he played a retired superhero Frozone, a role Jackson is reprising in the upcoming sequel. Another film is Coach Carter, a real life story of a basketball coach who aspires for his basketball players to achieve academically as well as on the court. Jackson received multiple nominations for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ken Carter who was humble and wise, not backing down from his beliefs and being an inspiration to all young black Americans. We also learned of Jackson’s dislike of snakes in the comedy horror, which is now a cult classic, Snakes On A Plane.
Jackson’s career slowed down in the late 2000’s landing the occasional main role in several Blockbusters like Black Snake Moan, but many were flops… I’m looking at you The Spirit. Jackson also tried his hand at voice acting, providing his voice to anime Afro Samurai and the ever controversial video game series Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It wasn’t until he was cast as Marvel’s kickass mega spy Nick Fury that he began a resurgence. His early appearances with the character in Marvel’s Phase 1 movies were no more than a 2 minute scene. It wasn’t until 2012’s Avengers that Jackson became a major player in the universe, whipping out a rocket launcher to shoot down a plane when all he had to do was shoot the pilot with a gun. Jackson signed a 9 movie deal with Marvel, and while he hasn’t been seen since 2015’s Age of Ultron, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing more of him in the MCU.
Jackson has also taken a liking to walking on the villainous side in recent years, with standout performances in Tarantino’s Django: Unchained, playing Mr Barron in Mrs Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and his quirky take on the childish billionaire Richard Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
What The Future Holds
Jackson is still, even at the ripe age of 68, in high demand as an actor with upcoming roles including The Incredibles 2, Blazing Samurai and the just released The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Jackson is also producing a live action adaptation of the hit manga/anime, Afro Samurai as he liked voicing the character so much in the TV series. Many recent portrayals have received mix reviews, but Jackson always manages to make himself the standout in the film even if it’s not great. No matter what he takes on next, we’ll be lining up to watch.
There you have it for another edition of Spotlight On. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about one of the most charismatic and iconic actors of modern cinema. What is your favourite Samuel L Jackson movie? What is your favourite quote? Should Nick Fury get a standalone movie? Send me your comments below or on Facebook.