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Coach Carter - I never thought about the film falling into cliché because it's about more than just winning at all costs



Feature by: Jack Foley

IF I were to ask you which actor is currently the most successful of all-time, in terms of box office figures, you might reply with the likes of Tom Cruise, Will Smith or Mel Gibson.

Yet it is Samuel L Jackson who recently emerged with the honour of becoming the 'six billion dollar man', having amassed more at the multiplexes than any other actor currently employed today.

Surprised? Probably, but then consider some of his roles in blockbusters such as The Incredibles, the Star Wars prequels and the likes of Pulp Fiction. Hell, he was even the computer programmer who issued the legendary warning, 'I can't get Jurassic Park back online'.

Yet the star is remarkably modest about setting such benchmarks, stating:

"It's a dubious kind of honour, there's nothing that comes with it, it's one of those kinds of figures that says you've done a lot of films that were successful, I guess it's a new watermark for someone to try to reach," he commented, at a recent London press conference.

"But now that it's there hopefully it'll mean something in the history of cinema and in my legacy once it's done... I'm proud of it."

His latest film, Coach Carter, finds Jackson portraying a real-life basketball coach who achieved national notoriety when he decided to bench the whole of his college team until they had sorted things out academically.

Hence, the under-achievers of Richmond High were taught to use their basketball skills as a means to push themselves on to greater achievements in life - and went on to win on the court and, subsequently, in life.

Needless to say, the film shot to the top of the US Box Office when it was released earlier this year and provided another steady earner for the box office champion.

But given its familiar tale of an inspirational teacher battling against the odds to achieve better things for his pupils, Jackson maintains that he wasn't concerned that the film could slip into cliché.

"I never thought about the film falling into cliché because it's about more than just winning at all costs, which most of these stories are about," he explained.

"This was about a guy who was inspiring kids to enrich their lives, so that the winning was over they would have a foundation to work from - and I thought that was very different.

"What happens to these kids when their glory days are over, do they become valuable members of society or are they just thrown away and you go into the local McDonalds and there's the guy asking 'can I supersize that for you', who used to be a big football star."

Jackson feels the message behind the movie is clearly an important one and is pleased with the work he put in, which even extended to becoming something of a 'Coach Carter' figure to several of the young actors who play his young charges.

"I figured it was incumbent on me to become a leader by example, rather than the things I said to them. So I was always the first person on set, in place, always knew my lines, always knew theirs - just in case and to let them know their was work to be done in a specific amount of time.

"I also told them that if they had a question, don't be ashamed to ask it; it's ok to make a mistake, but more importantly, they needed to focus because they had a tendency to take everything as a game.

"So hopefully they learned to respect the crew, themselves, their fellow actors while watching me do the things that I did. I try to know all the names of the people that are working around me, I talk to them every day, I'm not the kind of actor that comes on set and you're not allowed to look at or speak to, and I tried to keep them from falling into the bad habits that a lot of them had heard about.

"I was kind of a protector also because there were times when I actually had to stop the director from pushing them so hard, because when they had them running up and down the court, up and down the court and they can't get the shot and continue to want the kids to run, it's like 'how many times do you guys think you can do this before you need some water or need ten minutes?'"

Given his approach to fame, his approachability and the fact that he appears in so many films, Jackson is regularly asked to help new stars break into Hollywood.

Coach Carter is a classic case in point, given that it features several emerging actors, as well as the big screen debut of singer-turned-actress, Ashanti.

Yet the actor is equally candid about his views on singers trying to make the transition to film, stating:

"My business, it's one of those things where the pretty girls get on the bus and come to Hollywood because they were Miss Flowers 1985 or whatever, and they're the cute girls and that's over pretty soon - you're not cute anymore, do you have the talent, can you really act?

"And I guess that's one of the reasons I get the same question about me working with rappers only because I know what I had to go through to get where I got - to pound the pavements in New York and go to audition after audition and do plays here, do plays there, work all over the country, that I sort of refuse to validate the careers of people coming from another venue.

"Because I know that if I do that, I'm invalidating everything that all those young actors that are spending their time in school and pounding the pavements, so I would prefer to give a break to a new young actor than a new young rapper," he concluded.

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