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L. JACKSON, SAMUEL

A REGULAR GUY – SORT OF
Golf has replaced crack and drink as his obsessions, and Samuel L. Jackson sees himself as a regular guy – while he continues to search for roles with a difference. He talks to ANDREW L. URBAN in Sydney, while visiting to promote Jackie Brown, his latest film for Quentin Tarantino.

He arrives for the interview with the graceful air of a man at ease with the world and his place in it. The wardrobe is refined hip: elegantly contemporary casual beige trousers, minimalist sunglasses and a beret sporting a white kangaroo (coincidentally the logo of the British manufacturer) and the red letters "Jackie Brown". But we know this dude is not Jackie Brown but Samuel Leroy Jackson, whose acting career continues to rise and rise, in Australia to promote Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Jackie Brown – in which the resourceful air hostess Jackie is played by Pam Grier and gun dealer Ordell Robbi is played by Jackson. Jackson describes Robbi as "personable, and like a lot of people, he wants to make a million dollars. He will go to any lengths for the money – otherwise he’s like you or me; he’s loyal to his friends and generous. He’s a regular sort of guy - with a lethal side."

"I have to remind myself day to day that I was never able to have just one of anything."

Jackson, too, is a regular sort of guy, we learn, who does the shopping, makes beds and watches movies. He also has a 16 year old daughter and a wife he met 27 years ago in college. (LaTanya Jackson is soon to be seen in "US Marshall," co-starring with Tommy Lee Jones. The only time they worked together was on the film Losing Isaiah in 1995.) The fact that they are both actors and still married is a cause of some fascination in the movie world, but Jackson simply says they "got through the ups and downs". Of which there was none more severe than a few years of excess (from crack to alcohol), which Jackson has now publicly left behind.

"I’m now going into the tenth year of sobriety," he says ruefully, "but I have to remind myself day to day that I was never able to have just one of anything. If I bought a six pack of beer, I’d drink the six. If I opened a bottle of wine, I’d never put the cork back."

"The tone of a Quentin Tarantino shoot is a playground for me."

These days, Jackson’s only real obsession – outside work, that is – is golf. He plays on a handicap of 12, and his contract stipulates that wherever he is shooting, golf courses nearby must be accessible. (On Sunday in Sydney, he hit "in the 80s" on his first game in town.)

Jackson is equally enthusiastic about work, at least when it comes to Tarantino. "The tone of a Quentin Tarantino shoot is a playground for me. We rehearse for two weeks, check out the locations and then get into it. Quentin knows exactly what he is going to do, and the fun he brings to it is infectious. He has dinner parties with everybody, we go dancing together and he plays us a B movie every week of the shoot. So we all have this relationship off set as well, and that comes through on the screen. It’s very real and we all feel very comfortable, as well as having a great time. Everybody is comfortable with their skin colour, too. But you also know you’re doing something artistically worthwhile."

Jackson has done quite a bit that is artistically worthwhile, from a prestigous stage career to ever bigger film roles, including his portrayal of a crack addict in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, which won him the Cannes Film festival’s only Best Supporting Actor award in 1989.

"I choose roles to stretch myself and never play the same character again"

He has since been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards for roles in Pulp Fiction, Against the Wall, A Time to Kill and Jackie Brown, and for the latter, he won the Best Actor Award at the 1998 Berlin Film festival in February this year, on the eve of the film’s Australian release.

His roles are diverse because he wants them to be: "I choose roles to stretch myself and never play the same character again," he says. "I respect audiences – and I am an audience member myself. That’s the first thing I look for in a script: would I pay $8 to see this?"

And because he does have a choice – he is at that level in his profession – he occassionally gets a script in which his role in not race specific. "But I still have to fight the same old battles in many casting meetings," he says, about being offered parts where he is black first, character second.

"You can’t pigeon hole him. He plays strong personalities like I do, often with a weakness somewhere." on Jeremy Irons

In an interview with Nick Roddick published in Urban Cinefile last year, Jackson compared himself to Jeremy Irons: we asked him to elaborate on that.

"To me, Jeremy Irons is a very classy but strange-to-place kind of guy. You can’t pigeon hole him. He plays strong personalities like I do, often with a weakness somewhere. He has a unique diversity and a good reputation. He’s not the highest paid actor, but he’s highly respected."

Jackson pauses for a moment, and smiles. "’course I can say that about Morgan [Freeman], too…."

Part of this interview also appeared in The Australian

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Samuel L. Jackson, right, pictured with Robert DeNiro

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on set with director Quentin Tarantino

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See our reviews of JACKIE BROWN
on March 5 1998, and Paul Fischer's interview with PAM GRIER

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