Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Samuel L. Jackson

Intense veteran of TV commercials and the New York theater, Samuel L Jackson is one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, averaging five features a year since 1992. After beginning his career in Atlanta where he landed his first commercial (for the regional chain Krystal Hamburgers) and feature ("Together for Days" 1972), he moved north and spent over a decade acting with the acclaimed Negro Ensemble Company, performed with the New York Shakespeare Festival. Although he originated roles in two of August Wilson's plays at the Yale Repertory Theater (Boy Willie in "The Piano Lesson" and Wolf in "Two Trains Running"), he was unable to perform them on Broadway (succeeded by Charles S Dutton and Laurence Fishburne, respectively). Jackson segued to bit parts in films and TV guest shots, often playing creeps and criminals who died violently on-screen. His strikingly feline eyes conveyed menace with scary effectiveness, but his expressive face adjusted impressively to a wide range of material.

Jackson first met Spike Lee when the writer-director visited backstage after a performance of "A Soldier's Play" and years later the director cast him in a bit as a local yokel in "School Daze" (1988). The collaboration continued as he oversaw the neighborhood happenings as the street-level deejay Mister Senor Love Daddy in "Do the Right Thing" (1989) and beat the hell out of Denzel Washington in "Mo' Better Blues" (1990). Jackson enjoyed a major career boost in Lee's "Jungle Fever" (1991) with his brilliant, harrowing portrait of Gator, an alternately charming and dangerous crack addict (based on his first-hand knowledge of the drug culture), winning a special jury prize as Best Supporting Actor at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. He also had a chance to work with his wife LaTanya Richardson in Lee's "Malcolm X" (1992) but balked at the director's request for him to work for scale.

Jackson's triumph as Gator led to a torrent of small roles in a rapid succession of titles--"Strictly Business" (1991), Ernest Dickerson's "Juice", "White Sands", "Johnny Suede", "Patriot Games", "Jumpin' at the Boneyard", and "Fathers and Sons" (all 1992)--before Jackson graduated to leads in two 1993 comedies, "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon I" and "Amos and Andrew". He finished out the year in supporting roles in three wildly different projects: the Hughes Brothers' "Menace II Society", Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" and Tony Scott's "True Romance", scripted by rising star Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino, in tribute to 70s blaxploitation flicks, put Jackson in a Jheri-curled Afro wig to play Jules, a philosophical hit man, in the acclaimed "Pulp Fiction" (1994). Outstanding even amid a stellar ensemble including Bruce Willis, John Travolta, and Uma Thurman, he got to utter several killer monologues while going about his grisly work and received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Hedging his bets, the workaholic actor appeared in at least three other films in 1994 including "The New Age" and "Fresh" and also appeared in the high-minded made-for-cable movies "Assault at West Point" (Showtime, 1994) and "Against the Wall" (HBO, 1994). Jackson's choice of roles post-"Pulp Fiction" yielded mixed critical and box office results. He was a lawyer arguing for a mother's rights in the modest "Losing Isaiah", a cop running an undercover operation in the flop "Kiss of Death" and Bruce Willis' unwilling cohort in the successful "Die Hard With a Vengeance" (all 1995). Jackson tried a comic turn as a Don King-like boxing promoter in "The Great White Hype", rode the roller coaster of Renny Harlin's "The Long Kiss Goodnight" as a low-rent private eye and earned praise as a father accused of killing the men who raped his nine year old daughter in Joel Schumacher's "A Time to Kill" (all 1996).

The Jackson juggernaut pressed on at full throttle with starring roles in three 1997 movies. As Trevor Garfield, the dedicated teacher driven over the edge into violence in "187" (copspeak for a homicide), he found himself in a vehicle that for all its good intentions was little more than "Death Wish" visits the public schools. He faired much better with "Eve's Bayou", an intensely emotional, well-made family drama by first-time writer-director Kasi Lemmons. Revealing a suave romantic side to his versatile talent, Jackson also served as executive producer and paterfamilias for the predominantly female cast surrounding him. He returned to Tarantino country as arms merchant Ordell Robbie in "Jackie Brown" (adapted from Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum Punch"), moving deftly between comedy and malice (a trademark style by now) as the personable villain with no moral center (unlike Jules) who ends up killing Robert De Niro, a sure sign that he had arrived as an actor.

1998 began with Jackson (this time as a brainy mathematician) sharing the spotlight with Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone in Barry Levinson's lackluster sci-fi thriller "Sphere". That year's small independent "The Red Violin" gave him "a great opportunity to play a role (as a violin expert) you don't normally see an African-American in," and the much bigger-budgeted "The Negotiator" paid him $5 million to star opposite Kevin Spacey (at $4 million) as a hostage negotiator who takes his own hostages when he is falsely accused of murder and embezzlement. The following year saw him as Jedi Knight Mace Windu in George Lucas' long-awaited "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace", as well as rejoining Harlan for "Deep Blue Sea". Jackson, showing no inclination for slowing up, also signed to play a Marine Colonel embroiled in controversy in "Rules of Engagement" (2000) and followed Richard Roundtree as the cool private eye in "Shaft" (also 2000), John Singleton's riff on the 1971 blaxploitation classic. For him, work (plus golf) remained the addiction that had replaced the substances kicked at the beginning of the decade.

In 2002, Jackson was at a high-water mark, willing to tackle a variety of challenging roles, large and small: As a leading man, he co-starred with Ben Affleck in the effective sociological thriller "Changing Lanes," in which he turned in a nuanced, commanding performance as a recovering alcoholic Doyle Gipson, fighting to stay in his children's lives even as his own life is almost undone due to the aftereffects of a simple fender-bender; he then delivered an action-packed supporting turn reprising his role as Jedi Master Mace Windu for George Lucas' blockbuster "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones," this time more in the thick of the plot with a mean purple light saber (the actor chose the color so he'd stand out in the crowded action scenes); he then helped launch a hit action franchise, appearing as the mysteriously scarred NSA Agent Augustus Gibbon in "xXx," perhaps the only actor who could out-intimidate Vin Diesel; and he took the lead again as kilt-wearing master chemist Elmo McElroy in the Brit indie thriller "Formula 51."

In the lackluster military potboiler "Basic" (2003), Jackson employed his hard-as-nails persona to play a feared, often hated Special Forces sergeant who mysteriously disappears along with the team of Army Rangers he commands during a routine training exercise during a hurricane in the jungles of Panama. Spinning that persona to a more heroic bent, the actor then tackled the role of Lt. Dan 'Hondo' Harrelson for the big-budget, straight-faced screen adaptation of the 70s cop drama "S.W.A.T." (2003), opposite Colin Farrell, an action extravaganza in which the special tactics team led by Jackson's character must transport an incarcerated drug kingpin who's offered $100 million to anyone who can free him.

Jackson's career choices continued to run the gamut in terms of quality: he played second fiddle to Ashley Judd in one of the actress' characteristic, unchallenging thrillers, "Twisted" (2004), but rebounded strongly as the voice of the frustrated, ice-powered superhero Frozone in Disney/Pixar's delightful CGI-animated superhero spoof "The Incredibles" (2004). He also cameoed in Tarantino's "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" (2004) as an organist at the wedding of The Bride.

Jackson kicked of 2005 with "Coach Carter," playing a familiar on-screen archetype--the inspirational coach who helps his students achieve--playing the controversial high school basketball coach Ken Carter who benched his undefeated team due to their collective poor academic record in 1999. Despite its seemingly clichéd set-up, the film resonated thanks in large part to Jackson's strong, anchoring performance. Jackson played an angry Washington Post reporter in the John Boorman drama, “In My Country” (2005). Sent to cover South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission—a public hearing conducted to reconcile the atrocities of apartheid—Jackson butts heads with a white South African poet (Juliette Binoche) over his bitterness and racial agenda, but instead ends up falling in love despite both being married to another. He then went on to reprise two of his popular roles: first, Agent Gibbons for the action sequel "xXx: State of the Union" (2005), this time putting Ice Cube in the secret agent hot seat; then he unsheathed that purple light saber for the final appearance of Jedi Master Mace Windu in the prequel trilogy-ender "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (2005). Jackson had long insisted that George Lucas write him an impressive death scene, and both Lucas and Jackson delivered the goods in Windu's long-anticipated demise, which proved to be one of the most dramatic scenes in the film.

Jackson's next vehicle was the hackneyed, derivitive action/buddy flick "The Man" (2005), which attempted to drive laughs by pairing Jackson's hard-edged cop with an awkward dentist (Eugene Levy) drawn into a crime scheme.

  • Also Credited As:
    Sam Jackson, Samuel Leroy Jackson
  • Born:
    on 12/21/1948 in Washington, DC
  • Job Titles:
    Actor, Producer, Security guard, Social worker
Family
  • Aunt: Edna. lived in home with Jackson while growing up in Chatanooga, Tennessee; inspiration for him taking role as teacher in "187"
  • Daughter: Zoe Jackson. born in 1982; mother, LaTanya Richardson
  • Mother: Elizabeth Jackson. began as a domestic and ended career as supply buyer for state mental institution
Significant Others
  • Wife: LaTanya Richardson. born in 1941; married in 1980; met while Jackson was attending Morehouse College; acted together in "Losing Isaiah" (1995)
Education
  • Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia, drama, BA, 1972
Milestones
  • 1972 Acted in first feature, "Together For Days", starring Clifton Davis and Lois Chiles; credited as Sam Jackson
  • 1974 First appearance on a TV series, "Moving On" (NBC)
  • 1976 Moved to NYC from Atlanta; began performing in stage productions, frequently with the Negro Ensemble Company (i.e., "A Soldier's Play" 1981, "Home" 1981, "District Line" 1984, "Burners Frolic" 1990, "Jonquil" 1990)
  • 1978 Appeared in "The Trial of the Moke", for "Great Performances" (PBS)
  • 1981 First met Spike Lee backstage one night after a performance of "A Soldier's Play"
  • 1981 First notable appearance in a major feature, as Gang Member No. 2 in Milos Forman's "Ragtime"
  • 1985 First affiliation with playwright August Wilson, Seattle Repertory Theatre production of "Fences"
  • 1987 Originated the part of Boy Willie in the world premiere of Wilson's "The Piano Lesson" at the Yale Repertory Theater (replaced by Charles S Dutton on Broadway)
  • 1988 First appearance in a Spike Lee film, "School Daze"
  • 1990 Co-starred in world premiere of Wilson's "Two Trains Running" at the Yale Repertory Theater (March 30-April 21); replaced by Laurence Fishburne on Broadway
  • 1991 Breakthrough supporting role, the crackhead Gator in Lee's "Jungle Fever"
  • 1993 Played first feature leads in "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon I" and "Amos and Andrew"; both comedies
  • 1994 Acted the part of the prisoner Jamaal in acclaimed HBO movie "Against the Wall", directed by John Frankenheimer
  • 1994 Delivered a sensational performance as Jules, the philosophizing hit man and partner of John Travolta, in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction"; earned Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination
  • 1995 Initial foray into action-adventure genre, "Die Hard with a Vengeance"
  • 1996 Admitted to having been addicted to crack cocaine in the mid-1980s in a TV interview with Mary Hart on "Entertainment Tonight"
  • 1996 Appeared as a low-rent private eye in Renny Harlin's actioner "The Long Kiss Goodnight"
  • 1996 Portrayed Carl Lee Hailey, the grieving father accused of killing the men who raped his 9-year-old daughter, in Joel Schumacher's "A Time to Kill"; first film with actor Kevin Spacey
  • 1997 Acted the part of arms dealer Ordell Robbie in Tarantino's "Jackie Brown"
  • 1997 Debut as producer, executive produced "Eve's Bayou"; also delivered a silky performance as a cheating husband
  • 1997 Played a teacher returning to the classroom after nearly being killed by a student in "187"
  • 1998 Co-starred with Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone in Barry Levinson's sci-fi feature "Sphere"
  • 1998 Played an evaluator of violins in the small independent "The Red Violin" (released in the USA in 1999)
  • 1998 Received $5 million to star opposite Spacey in "The Negotiator"
  • 1999 Portrayed Jedi Knight Mace Windu in the long-awaited "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"
  • 1999 Reteamed with Harlin for the action thriller "Deep Blue Sea"
  • 2000 Cast as a Marine Colonel accused of using excessive force in "Rules of Engagement"
  • 2000 Had title role in "Shaft", a loose remake of the 1971 classic directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree
  • 2000 Received star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (June 16)
  • 2002 Cast as Agent Gibbons in the summer blockbuster "XXX"
  • 2002 Co-starred as Doyle Gipson, an alcoholic saleman in "Changing Lanes"
  • 2002 Continued his work as Mace Windu in "Stars Wars: Episode II- Attack Of The Clones"
  • 2002 Reuntied with John Travolta in "Basic"
  • 2002 Starred in "Formula 51" with Robert Carlyle; Jackson also produced
  • 2003 Cast in Quentin Tarantino's film "Kill Bill," which was released in two Volumes "Kill Bill Vol. 1" in 2003 and "Kill Bill Vol.2" in 2004
  • 2003 Starred in the action-packed feature "S.W.A.T."
  • 2004 Co-starred in the thriller "Twisted," about a female police detective is set to a case where she discovers all the murder victims are her past boy friends
  • 2004 Voiced Lucius Best/Frozone in Pixar's animated feature "The Incredibles"
  • 2005 Portrayed Ken Carter, in "Coach Carter" the true-life story of controversial high-school basketball coach, who in 1999 benched his entire undefeated basketball team for poor academic performance
  • 2005 Reprised his role in "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," the final film in the star wars saga
  • 2006 Cast in "Freedomland," a drama directed by Joe Roth and based on Richard Price's acclaimed novel of the same name
  • Debut in TV commercials for Southern fast-food chain Krystal Hamburgers in Atlanta ("It's probably the little cooked onions")
  • Grew up in segregated Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Performed plays with New York Shakespeare Festival
  • Signed on to narrate an upcoming spoof of the Oscar-winning documentary "March of the Penguins" titled "Farce of the Penguins," written and directed by Bob Saget
  • Spent two years as Bill Cosby's TV stand-in for the NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show"
  • Will co-star with Hayden Christensen in "Poker Night, a thriller about a detective who is subsequently tortured by the serial killer keeping him captive (lensed 2006)
  • Will produce and lend his voice to "Afro Samurai," a five-episode action cartoon to air on Spike TV (lensed 2005)

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