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Coach Carter - Samuel L Jackson Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Congratulations, you recently made film history as the most successful box office star in the history of this medium – the 6 billion dollar man?
A.
Thank you [laughs]. 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. 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.

Q. How did you go about portraying the real life local hero Carter?
A.
Ken was on set pretty much everyday and when I met him for the first time I was interested in finding out the character of the man, his presence, the conviction of his beliefs. And beyond that I didn't try to emulate or imitate him in any way - I just tried to play the honesty of the scenes, and get it going.

Q. Given the amount of inspirational teacher stories there are now, were you afraid this film film might become clichéd?
A.
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. 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.

Q. Did the young cast look to you for guidance on set?
A.
The kids and I had a healthy relationship and 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, but yes, we could have fun while we were doing it.
And if you 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 everyday, 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?'

Q. Is Ken Carter as snappy a dresser as you?
A.
[Laughs] His suits don't cost as much as mine did, but he does have a tendency to wear a flamboyant tie that seems to be his trademark. But he actually coached in a suit which was amazing for me to find out that he never went to practice without a suit and tie on.

Q. What do you think about franchises and would you like to have your own at this stage in your career?
A.
I'm at the point in my career where I have to start finding things to do other than action movies because everybody knows how old I am and I don't want to be running around with them saying 'wow 60-year-old guy just beat up a 23-year-old dude!' Cause that's not the reality of it and I like reality.
I read six, seven scripts a week out of those sometimes I'll find four a year that interest me.
And I'll do stuff like I'm going to do an episode of The Extras while I'm here - Ricky Gervais new show. I'm playing myself and it seems to be a show where Ricky and his friends are playing extras who go from movie set to movie set and every week they'll have a different movie personality who's doing a film. And they either do something and get tossed off the set or they're trying to get a line - but I haven't seen the script yet. But I love The Office, I discovered it here and I ended up buying the DVDs.

Q. How come you haven't shot a golf movie?
A.
Golf is the kind of game most people want to play rather than watch people play. If there was another Caddy Shack the most successful golf movie ever made only because it was so funny that would be possible. But a serious movie about golf I'm not real sure - I know there's a story about pioneering black golfers in America before they were allowed to play on the PGA which is interesting to me but who's the audience for that movie?

Q. Your career took time to establish itself, do young actors get given too much recognition too soon?
A.
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.

Q. Would you have done anything differently from Coach Carter?
A.
I probably would have worn different ties with those suits, but he pretty much espouses the theories that I do, that sports are extra curricula activities and that you're actually in school and if you do well in school then you're allowed the privilege of playing sports, being in a band. But your responsibility first is to be a student.

Q. Would you have responded positively if Coach Carter had pushed you?
A.
Yes I would only because I was raised in a very authoritarian household and I was a lot more afraid of my parents than I was of my peers, so there were times my friends were doing things I knew we shouldn't be doing and I would leave. Only because I never wanted to put my parents in a position of them having to get me out of jail. I was taught that no matter if I thought they were right or wrong I always said 'Yes Ma'am, Yes Sir' and I did what they told me to do.

Q. Was Coach Carter surprised that the community didn't support him when it came to trying to push the pupils to succeed academically?
A.
The interesting thing is the fact that being in a community like Richmond where there's not a lot expected of you, you end up in a situation where winning breeds good feelings among the players and the people who support the team. So to be a winner makes everyone feel good and when you take that away from them it tends to make everyone angry at you.
So his shock was that the community didn't support his ideals for the kids - they were more interested in the immediate gratification of winning than these kids futures.
The big difference between the film and real life is they did go on to win the State Championship. The filmmakers figured it would serve the story better if they lost so the lesson of the sacrifice they made was greater and had more impact.

Q. How do you feel about the British sporting mentality that says taking part is more important than winning?
A.
I still have a problem with that - I actually went to the first football game in person when I was in Liverpool, I had watched them on television. At the end of the day it was nil-nil and everybody was like "Yeah!"...we just went to a game that nobody won! There's no joy in that - you know games are played to be won or lost, not to be tied, so there's nothing in that for me - it's no joy in winning or losing it's 'we played the game'.
It's kinda like folks who go to the Academy Awards and say 'You know, it's just an honour to be nominated.' Bullshit - it's a contest, if you're in it you want to win it! So I don't believe in that ideal at all - what's the point?

Q. Star Wars - are you sad it's over?
A.
I was just here a week or so ago working on that thang! So it's not over yet, I'm not real sure George (Lucas) has done tweaking this movie. I won't have a sense of completion until I see it. I'm glad I'm part of it it's a real wishful film in terms of sitting in a theatre when I saw the first one and asking the question 'how in the hell can you get in something like this?' And now I'm part of it so it's one of those dreams come true that I never thought would happen. I'm more than happy how I end up in the film I can smile about that and I do have my light sabre at home so I'm real happy about that.

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