We often talk about Leonardo DiCaprio or Tom Hanks as having worked with all of the biggest directors in the business, but Samuel L. Jackson is very much in that league alongside them.
After minor roles as an unfortunate thug in Martin Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas and a DJ/Greek Chorus in Spike Lee’s classic Do The Right Thing, the 67-year-old actor has breathed life into characters for Steven Spielberg, Tony Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, George Lucas, Joss Whedon and William Friedkin, among many others.
But the filmmaker we associate him with more than any other is Quentin Tarantino. Since giving us hitman-in-midst-of-epiphany Jules in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, Jackson has popped so many caps in motherfuckers at Tarantino’s behest that the two seem made for each other. As he tells PAPER, his latest role for Tarantino, as Civil War hero Marquis Warren, speaks volumes of unspoken subtext about violence, race and America.
The lines seem very precise in a Tarantino movie, but a lot of actors like to wing it. Do you get the chance to do that in a Tarantino movie?
There’s not a lot that you need to change. Quentin and I have conversations about what I say, and I don’t just willy-nilly change things. If I want to say something else, I’ll go to him and discuss it with him and we’ll talk about it.
He’ll say “Well, let me hear what I wrote.” And I’ll say what he wrote. “Well, let me hear what you want to say.” And I’ll say what I want to say, which is very close to what he wrote. I just want to say it in another way, because I think it comes out of that character’s mouth a different way. He’ll say “Okay” or he’ll say “No, leave it the way I wrote it.” And that’s generally what happens. The rest of these motherfuckers need to say what he says.
After all this time, do you instinctively know what each other wants?
We’re kind of on the same wavelength. Generally, when I get it, it’s exactly what it needs to be. As characterization starts and as we’re in rehearsal, there are times when I feel like I didn’t say enough or I didn’t have enough to say and I would say to him “could you add something here so that I can answer that or clarify this,” and Quentin will do that.
But by the time the rehearsal period is over and we get there and we’re ready to do it, nothing changes. The only big change we had from being around the studio table and being outdoors with the stagecoach was the cold. That was the one thing, that was the wildcard that we really didn’t know about, and all of a sudden it changed the urgency of everything we wanted to do, especially outdoors. It was like “Okay, I want to get inside this stagecoach now. I don’t like the snow right now.”
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