An Interview with Samuel L. Jackson
by Wilson Morales
November 5, 2008
With so many films to his credit, it's been a long time since Samuel L. Jackson actually starred in a comedy. You'd probably have to go way back to 1996 when did 'The Great White Hype' if you were doing some research. In order to get him back in that genre, it took someone special that he could work with and that person was Bernie Mac. Together, the two of them showed a dynamic chemistry in Malcolm D. Lee's Soul Men that we won't ever see again due to Mac's passing this summer. Along with Sharon Leal, Affion Crocket, Sean Hayes, and the late Isaac Hayes, 'Soul Men' is a tribute to Mac and Hayes.
Two former backup soul singers Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) travel cross country to perform at a tribute concert in honor of their famous former band leader. They haven't spoken to each other in 20 years but reluctantly agree to travel together for the tribute performance. Both Jackson and Mac will do their own musical and dance performing in the film.
While in Los Angeles recently, Jackson spoke about his role in the film and working with Bernie Mac.
How did this all come about? Did you want to work together?
Samuel L. Jackson: We've been trying to find a project for awhile and people came up with different ideas. None of them actually work or sounded like they made sense to us, and we didn't want to be bothered with them. His manager, Steven Greener, actually came up with this concept and we sat down with some writers and threw ideas at them, told them what we wanted, sort of grumpy old soul singers on the road to New York, my character doesn't fly so we've got to drive, conflict in the group, why the group broke up, lead singer went off and became very successful, we had one hit, that whole thing, and one guy becomes sort of successful in the business world, and the other guy kind of falls off.
SLJ: Yeah, but Dreamgirls was better.
Were you surprised when you heard of Bernie's passing? He'd been ill over different periods of time but he always seemed to rebound, and he was still a young guy.
SLJ: Fifty's young. I'm going to be sixty this year so it's a little more scary for me. My daughter with her interesting kind of sense of humor, he passed and then Isaac passed the next day, it was kind of like "We need to get you to a safe house." "No, I'm alright." Her sense of humor is like mine, because I was thinking that very same thing.
Did you have fun working with Sharon?
SLJ: Yeah, we had a great time. Well, she was a little afraid of us at first, she got used to us. I can be a hard task master sometimes and I was barking a lot some days, trying to make things go, and Bernie's Mr. Easygoing, he's the peacemaker. But she was a little intimidated by us for a minute, and then we put her at ease and took care of her.
It seems like a lot of it was adlibbed – was it?
SLJ: No, there is a script. Keeping Bernie to a script is somewhat difficult, as you noticed in the hall, nobody could have written that, that thing he does outside my door, it's impossible for anybody to write that, that's not black I guess, and these writers weren't. So we had times where – I'm the guy that's kind of straight ahead and on the page and doing this thing, so I know Bernie. Bernie and I have been friends for a very long time, we have conversations, so I know how he can just go off in this pace and I have to bring him back, so it's okay, and I said, "Okay, I've got to say this at this point so we can get this out, so we can get to this point, between that you can do what you want, but just say this word so I'll know it's okay for me to say my line." And he'd be, "Okay."
You said you were more of the taskmaster, how would that blend with Bernie's style?
SLJ: It was okay, like I said, Bernie and I are friends, so we know each other, and doing what Bernie does, Bernie is like Mr. Infectious, he comes on set, he's talking to everybody, he's doing this, he's doing that, sometimes you've just got to get him focused, especially when we had crowds there and there's a microphone. As you can see in the outtakes at the end, Bernie's entertaining all the time. It's kind of like [he sighs]. You got to get through the day. But it's okay, Bernie and I, we had a great relationship, and I enjoy him as much as everybody else. It's really a blessing that we had an opportunity to be there and watch him do what he does and to have as much fun with him, and see him having as much fun as he was having. I guess if you had to pick a perfect last film for somebody that an audience could watch and say, "This is the guy we had in our house every week that we loved and we laughed at and we adored," this is the perfect film. Plus you get to see him do stuff we hadn't seen him do, we hadn't seen him sing and dance. Actually he has the responsibility of carrying the dramatic arc of the film, more so than I do. I'm just kind of Louis being Louis.
Were you glad you were free to use whatever language was necessary for this as opposed to having to clean it up for PG-13?
SLJ: It's a profane comedy. These guys are guys from a certain era, they speak a certain way. I know at a certain point somebody somewhere is going to say something about the use of the word nigger, because we say it a lot and we say it to each other and we just use it and throw it around. But that's our era, these guys are over sixty and it's a term of endearment, it's a descriptive – it's a whole lot of things. And they're entertainers, they are on the road, they had a certain kind of lifestyle, they did things and they lived a life so they speak a certain way, and we were comfortable doing it and believe it or not, when we went in to do the voice over stuff we took another third of the stuff out. (laughs) It's not often you go see a movie where somebody says, "Boy pussy." Because we were all shocked, we were like, "I've never heard that before."
You said you were a long time friend of Bernie's, do you recall the first time you met him?
SLJ: We became friends because I used to have this golf tournament in Bermuda, and I had a comedy night and Bernie was the host of my comedy night. Somebody introduced me to him and said, "This guy's a comic, and he's going to be big one of these days, and he plays golf," and we met, we hooked up, we played some golf, and I talked to him about my tournament, and he said, "Yeah, I'd be glad to come down there." So he would come to Bermuda and bring some other comics and do this big comedy night for me. And we did that for about three years, and that's how we were friends. When I was in Chicago shooting The Negotiator, we played golf together, I ate dinner at his house, we hung out together, he showed me Chicago, took care of me while I was there, then all of a sudden it was like, boom, Kings of Comedy hit, Bernie was Bernie Mac and got this big show. He was here doing his show, and then I didn't see him anymore because he was too busy, but we kept in contact, we'd see each other at parties or at award shows, and then we were talking about trying to get this thing together, and people started trying to put concepts together for us to do. But we met initially on a golf course, playing golf and hanging out at my golf tournament. He actually blamed me for him smoking cigars, used to have this really great cigar night down there because we could smoke Cuban cigars because we weren't in the country.