Nationality: American. Born: Atlanta, Georgia, 21 December 1948. Family: Married the actress LaTanya Richardson (1980); child: Zoe. Education: Attended Morehouse College, major in theater arts. Career: Worked in the theater, 1970s-80s; made his screen debut in Together for Days, 1972; originated the roles of Willie Boy and Wolf on stage in August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running at the Yale Rep, late 1980s; co-founder of the Just Us Theater Company, Atlanta, Georgia. Awards: Cannes Film Festival Best Supporting Actor, New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor, for Jungle Fever , 1991; Best Supporting Actor British Academy Award, Best Male Lead Independent Spirit Award for Pulp Fiction, 1994; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Image Award, for A Time to Kill, 1996; Best First Feature (as co-executive producer) Independent Spirit Award, for Eve's Bayou , 1997; Berlin Film Festival Best Actor, for Jackie Brown, 1997. Agent: ICM, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, U.S.A.
Together for Days (Schultz) (as Stan)
The Displaced Person (Jordan—for TV)
Ragtime (Forman) (as gang member no. 2)
Eddie Murphy Raw (Townsend) (as Eddie's Uncle); Magic Sticks (Keglevic) (as Bum); Uncle Tom's Cabin (Lathan—for TV) (as George)
Coming to America (Landis) (as hold-up man); School Daze (Spike Lee) (as Leeds)
Sea of Love (Becker) (as black guy); Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee) (as Senor Love Daddy); Dead Man Out (Pearce—for TV) (as Calvin Fredricks)
GoodFellas (Scorsese) (as Stack Edwards); Mo' Better Blues (Spike Lee) (as Madlock); Def by Temptation (Bond III) (as Minister Garth); A Shock to the System (Egleson) (as Ulysses); Betsy's Wedding (Alda) (as taxi dispatcher); The Exorcist III ( The Exorcist III: Legion ) (Blatty) (as Dream Blind Man); The Return of Superfly (Shore) (as Nate); Common Ground (Newell—for TV) (as the Reverend Bob McClain)
Jungle Fever (Spike Lee) (as Gator Purify); Strictly Business (Hooks) (as Monroe); Dead and Alive: The Race for Gus Farace ( Mob Justice ) (Markle—for TV)
Patriot Games (Noyce) (as Robby); White Sands (Donaldson) (as Greg Meeker); Jumpin' at the Boneyard (Stanzler) (as Mr. Simpson); Juice (Dickerson) (as Trip); Johnny Suede (DiCillo) (as B-Bop); Fathers and Sons (Paul Mones) (as Marshall)
Amos & Andrew (Frye) (as Andrew Sterling); National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 (Quintano) (as Wes Luger); Menace II Society (Allen Hughes and Albert Hughes) (as Tat Lawson); Jurassic Park (Spielberg) (as Arnold); True Romance (Tony Scott) (as Big Don); The Meteor Man (Robert Townsend) (as Dre); Simple Justice (Helaine Head—for TV) (as the Steward)
Pulp Fiction (Tarantino) (as Jules Winnfield); The New Age (Tolkin) (as Dale Deveaux); Fresh (Yakin) (as Sam); Hail Caesar (Anthony Michael Hall) (as mailman); Assault at West Point: The Court-Martial of Johnson Whittaker (Moses—for TV) (as Richard Greener); Against the Wall (Frankenheimer—for TV) (as Jamaal); Quentin Tarantino: Hollywood's Boy Wonder (Thompson—for TV) (doc) (as himself)
Losing Isaiah (Gyllenhaal) (as Kadar Lewis); Kiss of Death (Schroeder) (as Calvin); Die Hard with a Vengeance (McTiernan) (as Zeus); Fluke (Carlei) (as voice of Rumbo)
The Great White Hype (Hudlin) (as the Rev. Fred Sultan); A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher) (as Carl Lee Hailey); The Long Kiss Goodnight (Harlin) (as Mitch Henessey)
Eve's Bayou (Lemmons) (as Louis Batiste) (+ co-exec pr); One Eight Seven ( 187 ) (Reynolds) (as Trevor Garfield); Jackie Brown (Tarantino) (as Ordell Robbie)
Le rouge violon ( The Red Violin ) (Girard) (as Charles Morritz); All Saints: The First Video (as himself-uncredited); Sphere (Levinson) (as Harry Adams); Out of Sight (Soderbergh) (as Hejira-uncredited); The Negotiator (Gray) (as Danny Roman)
Deep Blue Sea (Harlin) (as Russell Franklin); Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace (Lucas) (as Mace Windu); From Star Wars to Star Wars: The Story of Industrial Light and Magic (Kroll) (as host)
Rules of Engagement (Friedkin) (as Colonel Terry L. Childers); Shaft Returns (Singleton) (as John Shaft); Caveman's Valentine (Lemmons) (as Romulus Ledbetter) (+ co-exec pr); The 51st State (Yu) (as Elmo McElroy) (+ pr); Mefisto in Onyx (Widen) (+ pr)
Interview with David Rensin, in Playboy (Chicago), April 1995.
"Sam I Am," interview with Claudia Dreifus, in Premiere (New York), June 1995.
"Look Black in Anger," interview with David Eimer, in Time Out (London), 11 September 1996.
"Talking Feds," interview with Adam Smith, in Empire (London), December 1998.
Dils, Tracey E., Samuel L. Jackson (Black Americans of Achievement) , Broomall, Pennsylvania, 1999.
Williams, L., "Samuel L. Jackson: Out of Lee's Jungle into the Limelight," in New York Times , 9 June 1991.
Ickes, B., "Jackson Heights," in New York , 10 June 1991.
Chambers, Veronica Victoria, "Samuel L. Jackson," in Premiere (New York), May 1992.
Title, Stacey, "The Main Man," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1993.
Angeli, Michael, "Samuel L. Jackson Climbs among the Glittering Stars," in New York Times , 7 February 1993.
Schoemer, Karen, "The 'L' Is for Lucky," in Newsweek (New York), 5 June 1995.
Dargis, Manohla, "A Man For All Seasons," in Sight & Sound (London), December 1996.
* * *
The early career of Samuel L. Jackson closely parallels that of another exemplary African-American character actor, Morgan Freeman. Both worked for years on stage and had unimportant movie roles before cementing their reputations in searing, eye-opening, award-caliber supporting performances.
In Street Smart , Freeman played a vicious pimp; in Jungle Fever , Jackson is brilliant as the pitiful, crack-addicted brother of the film's main character (Wesley Snipes). Jackson's Gator Purify constantly hits on brother Flipper for money and favors, endlessly and pathetically promising to clean up his life. He is a burden not only to Flipper but to his righteous parents. Nevertheless, Gator is not just another stereotypical African-American street hustler, a black villain in a story whose heroes all are white. Jungle Fever is directed by an African American, Spike Lee; while the character serves to mirror a certain very real segment of the urban black population, in the context of the story it is clear that he represents just one of many aspects of that community. Jackson's riveting performance did not go unnoticed by critics. The actor may have failed to earn a well-deserved Oscar nomination, but he was cited with the first-ever Best Supporting Performance award at the Cannes Film Festival.
After establishing themselves in their breakthrough roles, the careers of Jackson and Morgan Freeman veer in different directions. On more than one occasion, Freeman has played characters who are sweetly sympathetic and gentle, or quietly commanding, while Jackson's roles—even when cast as a hero—mostly remain hard-edged and frenetic. He is most fun to watch when playing such characters, whether they are the baddest of the bad or the best of the best.
In the 1990s, Jackson has been one of our most prolific movie actors, consistently bringing a raw, kinetic energy to his work. He appeared in roles of varying lengths in mega-budget epics whose scenarios are driven not by character exploration but by stunts and special effects ( Jurassic Park , Die Hard with a Vengence, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace ); less splashier, more character-driven Hollywood fare ( Losing Isaiah , Kiss of Death ); made-for-television movies ( Against the Wall , Assault at West Point: The Court-Martial of Johnson Whittaker ); and high-profile releases of the New Wave of African-American filmmakers (the Hughes brothers' Menace II Society, Ernest Dickerson's Juice , and Kasi Lemmons's Eve's Bayou, in addition to Jungle Fever ). Earlier, the actor also had roles in Lee's Do the Right Thing and Mo' Better Blues .
Four Jackson performances—each in a very different role—serve to exemplify the actor's unfailing excellence and electrifying screen presence. In Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction , he has the showy role of Jules Winnfield, the bible-spouting hitman who is companion to John Travolta's Vincent Vega. (Jackson plays a not-dissimilar character, an epithet-spewing creep, in Jackie Brown , Tarantino's follow-up feature.) In William Friedkin's Rules of Engagement, he is Colonel Terry Childers, a fiercely proud, ultra-patriotic career marine who is set up by a Washington bureaucrat and subjected to an unjust court-martial for doing his duty during a tough assignment in Yemen. In Michael Tolkin's The New Age , he plays Dale Deveaux, a "New Age" psychological motivator who shows up in the film's final section to inspire the main character (Peter Weller). And in Stephen Gyllenhaal's Losing Isaiah , he is Kadar Lewis, an attorney who encourages a former crack addict (Halle Berry) to reclaim her young son, who has been adopted by a white family.
In each film, Jackson is surrounded by outstanding actors. Yet whenever he is spouting dialogue—whether confronting and confounding "those who are about to die" in Pulp Fiction , soldiering heroically and later being assaulted in a courtroom in Rules of Engagement , doing his high-pressure sermonizing in The New Age , or declaring that black babies belong with black mothers in Losing Isaiah —all other performers and all other action around him cease to exist.