Samuel L. Jackson is a movie star, and he loves his job. “Movie sets are my playground. That’s my happy place,” he said.
“Sunday Morning” contributor Kelefa Sanneh asked, “Is acting easy for you?”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “Feels like it is. It’s fun for me.”
He has made, and is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. He’s worked closely with Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, and he’s a familiar presence in the “Star Wars” and Marvel franchises.
“I think movies should be entertaining,” Jackson said. “You know, popcorn movies, I love popcorn movies! Turn your brain off. You don’t have to figure out the plot, you don’t have to worry about who did it, you know? He did it! Now let’s have some fun!”
Now, in a new limited series, “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey,” he plays a different kind of character: an old man with dementia who briefly gets his memory back.
To watch a trailer for “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey” click on the video player below:
The story resonated with him: “Would you take a few days of clarity to, you know, say I love you or to, you know, let them know how you really feel or to hear their story? Would you do it?”
Sanneh asked, “Would you?”
“Of course. I would love to. My mom didn’t know who I was for at least the last ten years or so of her life. The last time I remember her actually knowing who I was, she’s watching TV in the room. And for some reason, my face popped up on the television. I had a movie coming out or something. And she’s like, ‘Sam?’ And that was it. That’s the last time she said my name.”
His mother, Elizabeth, died in 2012.
“What would I give for her to, you know, have one hour with me to say, you know, ‘I’m really proud of what you’ve done’? Or for me to tell her, ‘Everything that you did, you know, that you sacrificed and gave and pushed me and got me to and got me to this place.’ You know? To just, you know, thank her and love her.”
Samuel Leroy Jackson was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee by his mom, a factory worker. They spent Saturdays together in a local segregated movie theater: “They did these serials, you know, like, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and stuff. And then after that, they would screen whatever the movie was that they were screening that weekend, some monster movie or whatever.”
He admired actors Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. But he didn’t want to be them.
“I wanted to be Errol Flynn if I was gonna be somebody,” he laughed. “I wanted to be up there sword-fighting and swashbuckling across the screen!”
Sanneh asked, “Do you think about what it would’ve meant to a kid like you growing up to see a Black superhero like that on screen?”
“It was something that I could never imagine,” said Jackson. “But I’d be in there, jumping across the bed, through the house or in my backyard. So, I’d been a hero my whole life!”
When he was offered the role of Nick Fury in the Marvel movies, it was a big commitment: “And then I end up in the Marvel world. How crazy is it when somebody tells you when they bring you in, ‘Look, we wanna give you a nine-picture deal.’ And you’re like, ‘How long I gotta stay alive to make nine movies?’ You know, I didn’t know they was gonna make nine movies in two-and-a-half years!”
Jackson says that while acting is easy, the business of Hollywood can still be difficult. His wife of 40 years, Tony-nominated actor LaTanya Richardson, is also his producing partner.
Sanneh asked them, “You’ve become one of the biggest movie stars on the planet; I would hope that you guys would have a little juice to be able to get something made if you wanna get it made?”
“People say they wanna be in business with you, but they wanna be in business with you the way they wanna be in business with you,” Jackson said. “So, it’s still a fight in that way. I mean, I wish that the ‘All-Black Network’ had as much money as, you know, Netflix to throw around. And until they do, you have to go hat-in-hand to these other people who do have it.”
It took more than a decade for Jackson and Richardson to get their latest project made. “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey” premieres this week on Apple TV.
Sanneh asked, “What was it that made you so tenacious in wanting to get this thing made?”
Richardson replied, “Especially if you’re a Boomer, we’re having to deal with seemingly a lot of issues around dementia. Plus, it was just a good story.”
Bestselling author Walter Mosley wrote the book and the screenplay. He told Sanneh, “Listen, if you’re Black and you’re writing books, any book you write, nobody’s ever written before. A Black detective? A Black cowboy? A Black singer?”
Mosley has published more than 50 books, including “Devil in a Blue Dress,” which became a movie starring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle.
As Ptolemy Grey, Jackson plays a 91-year-old. Mosley said, “Nobody had really concentrated on a Black person experiencing dementia.”
Sanneh asked Jackson, “Did that make you think about aging?”
“I think about it all the time,” he replied. “I watch myself on screen, I say, ‘Oh, you don’t run like you used to run, dude!’”
But no one, at any age, can deliver lines like Samuel L. Jackson, such as in this classic scene from “Pulp Fiction”:
“There’s this passage I got memorized, Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
Sanneh asked, “Did you know that that speech was gonna be as iconic as it became?”
“Let me put it this way: when I did that speech in the audition, that’s when they knew how the movie was gonna end,” he said.
Many moviegoers believed his character, hitman Jules Winnfield, was simply reciting the Old Testament. “You taught a generation of moviegoers to misquote the Bible!” Sanneh laughed.
“Well, a lotta people for a long time thought that was a real Bible verse,” Jackson laughed. “Most of it’s not.”
Jackson was nominated for an Oscar for his performance inthough he didn’t win. Astonishingly, that remains his only Oscar nomination. This month, , some 40 years after his first film role.
Jackson said, “I’ve been around long enough that, you know, somebody decided, ‘Sure, yeah, he’s done enough stuff. Yeah, let’s give him one for all those movies he didn’t get it for. Let’s give it to him now.’”
“Does that mean something to you?” Sanneh asked.
“You can’t not pay attention to the accolade.”
But for a guy who used to spend every Saturday at the movies, being on-screen is its own reward: “Back in the day, when I was going to watch ‘Shaft’ and all that other stuff, you know, that those were our heroes.”
“If you were talking to the younger version of you, that would maybe be the most impressive thing to him, right? Like, you’re gonna get to be Shaft one day?”
“True. ‘Cause I used to sit in the movie theater and wonder, you know, Man, how do you get in a movie like this? You know? And all of a sudden, you know, it happens!”
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Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: Lauren Barnello.
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Samuel L. Jackson loves his job