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,
"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
"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
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,
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
"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
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,
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.