Feature by: Heather Metherall
IT'S A relief and a pleasure to find that Samuel L Jackson, nicknamed
the 'King of Cool', for both his demeanour on and off screen,
really is exactly as you expect him to be, right down to his trademark
kangol hat - though he's missing the kilt (it's a windy day!).
Sitting back in his chair at London's Dorchester Hotel, he greets
us with a half smile and a nod - and a confidence and grace that
puts everyone immediately at ease.
Though his past roles, in films such as Pulp
Fiction, Shaft and Jackie
Brown, have given him a reputation as the 'badass' of cinema,
Jackson is adamant that the roles he has chosen don't influence
how people judge him and is very aware of public perception, wishing
to be seen as someone who will take the time out for fans, and
criticising those actors who are brusque and unfriendly. It is
no surprise, then, that he is astonishingly honest, and actually
His new film, Changing Lanes,
finds the actor applying his varied theatrical and film experience
to the role of Doyle Gipson, a man driven to the edge after being
involved in a minor traffic accident with a rich young lawyer
(Ben Affleck), that turns its two participants into fierce adversaries,
frantically trying to reclaim the things they have lost.
The character of Gipson is different to the ones we are used
to seeing Jackson play. He is out of control, a man who is ruled
by outside influences, as much as his own inability to let go.
A recovering alcoholic, desperate to try again with his estranged
wife and two young boys, he is on his way to court to prove his
case for joint custody, when his world is turned upside-down.
Gipson's apparent lack of control is something Jackson attributes
to the fact he lives in New York, a city famous for its fast pace
and unforgiving nature. He describes living in the Big Apple as
a completely unique experience; as a place that drives people
to seek refuge in, and, in Gipson's case, turn to alcohol.
New York is clearly a place that has had a profound effect on
Jackson. He speaks of it almost in the same way as one would speak
of a mythical land, as strange, magnificent, and dangerous. He
is delighted by director, Roger Michell's understanding of the
city and refers to the Notting Hill helmer as a 'delicate director'
who has truly captured the magic and beauty of the city.
Jackson plays the role of Gipson with great conviction and this
is, no doubt, due to the fact that there are some interesting
parallels between his life and his character's journey in the
film. Coping with hardship and addiction is something Jackson
has had much experience of - although, in his case, he has emerged
He was a Crack addict and an alcoholic, and spent some time in
rehab, before carving out his remarkably successful career in
film. He regularly drew on his experiences in rehab when playing
Gipson, empathising with the character when faced with what he
called 'AA bible dumpers' - members of Alcoholics Anonymous who
choose to lecture their colleagues, rather than show support.
He recalled the dreadful moment when he had to face his wife
and daughter, at his lowest point in rehab, and compared it to
the situation Gipson finds himself in, with his family.
Jackson has been sober for 12 years now, though his resolution
was tested on-set. In one, poignant scene, Gipson finds a bar
in which to drown his sorrows and, after ordering the drink from
the barman, the actor was shocked to find that the glass placed
under his nose was filled with real whisky.
This was, apparently, the first alcoholic drink he had been close
to in all his years of sobriety and he described it as a true
jolt to the system, confessing that he found it hard to walk away.
One character trait that Gipson shares with previous Jackson
roles, however, is his violent nature. The actor says he created
Gipson on the way he was tempered, opting to show the gradual
disintegration of his morals and values, and the slow boiling
anger that eventually envelopes his character.
Despite having some similarities to Gipson, though, Jackson cannot
be accused of sharing his tumultuous personality, as he said that
the thing that frustrates him most in life is lining up in the
supermarket, at the checkout, for 10 items or less (cash only),
when the person in front has 15 and wants to pay by cheque.
Slipping back into the language he's best known for, he then
shouted, 'that busts my ass!', to the surprise of every assembled
journalist. He does admit, though, to placing the heads of his
enemies on the bodies of people he's shot in his other, more violent
Samuel L Jackson has proved himself to be much more than just
a fantastic actor; he has pulled himself through some incredibly
Maybe Changing Lanes shows, to some extent, what could have happened,
had he failed to do so.
The power and force which Jackson brings to the role is mostly
due to his talent, but there is the definite feeling that Doyle
Gipson is more Samuel L Jackson than we might, at first, think.