In My Country: An Interview with Samuel L. Jackson
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By Julian Roman
Ubuntu is the African principle of reconciliation, tell the truth and be absolved of your crimes. Your character starts off with an African American viewpoint of justice. What did he learn at the end of the film?
Samuel L. Jackson: There are a lot of things that go on in people's lives that change them, or become profound moments that you remember. Langston goes into the situation with a western sense of justice. It's amazing to him that these people can say "I forgive you." Through his relationship with Anna [Juliette Binoche] and Dume, he learns "what affects you, affects me, affects everybody." You start to realize the ripple effect that goes on in the world. The sooner you clean the slate and rebuild from the heart, the better off most of us will be.
Were you familiar with Antjie Krog's book before you were offered this project?
Samuel L. Jackson: No, but I've been reading the script for four years, I've been through three different drafts. I have friends who are South Africans, who I went to college with, and they'd been exiled and cast out, and they were waiting for things to change in their country. And I was trying to read what was going on with the truth and reconciliation trials, but the articles were buried on page thirty, if there were any. They only talked about how many people were killed, not what the results were. It was very strange coverage, so, I thought it would be important to let people know why the civil war that everybody expected to happen when Nelson Mandela was released didn't happen. And I think this is one of the reasons for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
How did you become involved with the film?
Samuel L. Jackson: I'm not real sure now, because I had this script a long time before John [Boorman] showed up. And there were other actresses they were approaching to play the lead, and two, three years down the line they said John Boorman's interested in doing this. So we met at a restaurant and we talked about it. At that point, they were deciding whether they still wanted me to do it, and once we got in conversation he got committed to me. And then they got committed to Juliette [Binoche]. I'm sure it came through my manager. They always leave stuff on my desk.
Your character, Langston, falls in love with Anna (Juliette Binoche) over the course of the film. Is there relationship relevant to the story?
Samuel L. Jackson: The story's about a white woman writer! And I'm not mad because I got naked with Juliette Binoche. I'm not mad at that at all!
It took a long time for you to get a love scene.
Samuel L. Jackson: I actually had a love scene in "Caveman's Valentine" and I sort of had one in "Eve's Bayou", even though it was standing up in a barn. (Laughs) It ain't as much fun as people think it is. I used to wonder about that when I watched love scenes. How do they do that? Do they get erect, do they not get erect? Then I found out there's like fifteen people in the room. And it lasts like (Snaps his fingers) that long. You get in the room and you lie down and its like, "Sam, move your head! Turn that way!" It's not exciting any more. Just give me one second to be excited, but it never happened.
This film deals with truth from the public to the private sphere, in terms of Anna's marriage. How do you govern your marriage in terms of how truth plays a role?
Samuel L. Jackson: Deny, deny, deny. As long as you deny, you stay married (Laughs). I know I don't ask questions, it's just that, it's not important. I come home, she's there, I keep coming home, and I keep being a loving and caring husband. There's nothing else to talk about. We still have the same candid conversations, we still have the same aspirations. She still wants to do the things she always wanted to do as an actress. She doesn't have to do anything now unless she wants to. It's kind of interesting, her agents are real bent out of shape about that.
When you're working on such a dramatic film, what do you do to unwind?
Samuel L. Jackson: There are a zillion things to do in Cape Town, they've got clubs, and fabulous restaurants, great seafood, and everything's cheap. They got fabulous golf courses in Cape Town, so I was all over the place playing golf, having a good time. I watch TV, I'd go to my trailer and watch movies, I carry DVDs with me, I've got like 50 DVDs with me when I'm going on location, Hong Kong movies that I haven't opened yet, because I'm a Hong Kong movie fan.
Your character compares apartheid to the Holocaust. Do you think that comparison is valid?
Samuel L. Jackson: That's somebody's writing license. I don't know how many people were killed then, apartheid lasted a long time. The Rwandan massacre would be more like the Holocaust, you know. What people refer to as ethnic cleansing in some places. It was something different and it went on for a very long time. It was a human rights violation, for sure. I used to wonder when I was talking to my South African friends in college, there's how many of you and how many of them? If every black person in South Africa woke up tomorrow and decided they wanted to kill a white person, you'd have to get in line, because it's thirty to one, so tell me why apartheid is even possible. Because they got the guns. It's simple. Like when the people from England came over and the Indians were here. It's a power thing, and they survived that way because these people felt they were threatened all the time. They essentially took their rights, made them go home at a certain time of day. If there was a rumble somewhere, you go over and you control by intimidation and fear. That's not necessarily a holocaust.
In My Country and Hotel Rwanda both took ten years to be made. Why so long? Samuel L. Jackson: I don't know. They tried to make this film earlier, but they couldn't find the money for it, so it didn't get made.
How does South Africa fare today?
Samuel L. Jackson: It'll take a couple of generations for things to go away, like in the south, desegregation. They were three generations away, all those people were like eighty at the end of that. But you can talk to white people in South Africa and they'll talk about how all their rights are gone. "We lost all our rights when apartheid ended." You could go anywhere you wanted to, run over any nigger on the street and not be tried for it, because you can do everything else you were doing. Very bizarre. You can walk down the street and you can tell everybody who was around during apartheid, and they're white, you don't move. Oh, you're American, hi, and they get out of the way. But if I wasn't American, they still got that thing going. There is a lot of bitterness, especially in Cape Town because they didn't have a black population until apartheid was over, and the ANC (African National Congress) moved all these black people over. It was white people, tourists, and the coloreds, and now the mixed race people are real confused. They don't know where they fit in to all this. That's where all the gang violence is. Kids are killing each other, smoking crack, doing heroine, it's just crazy, and it's volatile as hell out there. Scary. Really scary.
Has the film been well received in South Africa by whites and blacks?
Samuel L. Jackson: Yeah. Did you see the quote by Nelson Mandela. That's the Nelson Mandela, not Nelson A. Mandela from the projects. That's the man himself who put that quote on the book.
What are your next projects?
Samuel L. Jackson: A little independent film called "XXX 2", (Laughs) with Ice Cube that's coming out. Then the granddaddy of independent films, Star Wars, which technically is an independent film because George does it and then he sells it. And after that I've got an action comedy called "The Man" with Eugene Levy. And possibly, by the end of the year, this movie Freedomland will probably be released because they have those you know, academy awards.
How do you feel about Star Wars coming to an end?
Samuel L. Jackson: I honestly haven't given it much thought. I'm anxious to see it like everyone else. I think I'll be proud of the fact that I'm in something that will be analyzed, studied, revered, for the rest of history, I'm very proud of that. I'm still in awe of the fact that I ended up in something I wanted to be in. At the first screening, I thought, "How do you get in a movie like that?" And now I'm in it. So, it's not often that you have that kind of wishful film to happen. I don't know that I'll be sad, because I talked to George, and I don't know what he's going to do later. He's going to do some other stuff, but there's a whole animated series. When I go into a comic book store, I see myself on the cover. I've got a whole other life there, so there's a lot of possibilities.
Is Revenge of the Sith going to be really something to see?
Samuel L. Jackson: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
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