Still hot after his turn in Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson is about to share Bruce Willis’s bad day in Die Hard With A Vengeance. Nigel Floyd met him.
When Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in l99I. thejury was so blown away by Samuel L. Jackson's searing portrayal of crack-head Gator that they invented a once-only Best Supporting Actor category especially for it. The award upped Jackson's proﬁle, landed him his ﬁrst big Hollywood role (in Roger Donaldson’s White Sands). and took him away from off-Broadway theatre and bit parts towards the big time: as ‘Tonto' (his phrase) to Harrison Ford in Patriot Games. in Spielberg's Jurassic Park. and as the cool. Bible- quoting hitman Jules in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Despite the challenge of acting from behind Jules's 70s blaxploitation wig. the character actor's talent shone through. emphasising both his gift for vocal rhythms and his uncanny ability to completely change his appearance from one role to the next.
Although Jackson and his Die Hard With A Vengeance co-star Bruce Willis both appeared in Pulp Fiction, they did not share one minute of screen time. In director John McTieman’s sequel to his own classic action ﬁlm. the two are inseparable. Jackson plays Zeus Carver, a store owner we ﬁrst see saving washed-up New York cop John McClane from being killed by a black street gang. A psychopathic bomber with a grudge against McClane has ordered him to stand on the street in Harlem wearing only his boxer shorts and a sandwich board expressing his negative opinion of African-Americans. After Zeus saves McClane. he is dubbed The Samaritan by the bomber. Simon (Jeremy Irons), who then bounces the ill-matched pair all over New York in search of hidden explosive devices.
Jackson has been picky about roles in the past, refusing to audition for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.
Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis In Die iiard With A Vengeance
turning down ﬁlms with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino attached because he didn’t like the scripts. and gradually moving away from the ‘black criminal' roles that were his bread and butter early on. With a characteristic mix of humour and seriousness, he explains that his reasons for doing a Die Hard movie partly had to do with the character he played. and partly to do with the child inside him. ‘You don't often see us [African-Americans] portrayed as ordinary people doing extraordinary things,’ he says. ‘I really wanted to do an action ﬁlm because those are the things that made me go to the movies every week as a kid — I went to see guysjumping off cliffs, n'ding horses real fast. shooting at each other. And i played like that when l was a kid too, so this was just an adult extension of that.‘
More usually cast as a character actor. Jackson has a lower proﬁle than action star Wesley Snipes or leading man Denzel Washington, but his remarks
about his character Zeus seem to imply he felt some pressure to present a positive screen image for young African-Americans. Jackson, though, quietly denies this. ‘No.’ he insists, ‘not when l’m working. i play characters that i wouldn‘t want people to emulate. i mean. i wouldn't want a lot of people to go out and be Jules. if people want to use me as a role model. they have to follow tne home: to know that We been married to the same woman for 25 years and have a thineen-year-old daughter that I drive to school. to know that l graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta and spent twenty years doing theatre, learning to do the job that l'm doing. i’m a very responsible individual. i don't jay-walk or run stop signs, and i pay my taxes. That's a role model. The people i play are ﬁctitious characters that aren't to be emulated in any way.’
Die Hard With A Vengeance opens on Friday I 8 August.
ERIE!- DIE HAno WITH A VENGEANCE
In tnovieiand, you don’t need an American right-wing ntllitia to blow up buildings in the Big Apple: just take an English actor, give hint a dodgy Ber-an accent, and pretty soon Bruce Willis will be getting grinrier, bloodier and sweatier than ever. Since Alan iticknan took an Involuntary dive cit a tower block in the original Die Had, this tine it’s Jereuy lrons's turn to cap it up as the Earn-psycho who’s
ote iiard with A vii-guise: “Speed with a
combining a gold heist with his grievance against New York cop John
from pay-phone to pay-phone, solving childish riddles in tires to discover
Willis’s scnzzball charu, as he turns in a slick conic action pertornrance as a battered, boon-ridden anti-hero with
an attitude. Unlike the original or iienny iiarlln’s
McClane (Willis). superior follow-up, this We Ilard is Basically an extended cat and mouse noticeath empty, even though it takes
gatne, John McTiernan’s Die Hard With you tron: beginning to end in a fairly
A Vengeance has Willis and pisaed- entertaining manner. Despite the
oft, good-hearted sidekick Sarnnel l.. neuronal big hang, it really lacks a
Jackson dashing across iiew York City stand-out set piece. What keeps it
going is the excellent pairing of Willis and Jackson, the one time in recent
and deactivate a M of mm years that the buddy iornrula has DMM- “I33 8000“ Ml“ ‘8 3P0“ worked to perfection. (Alan Morrison) with a Ira-sow. mil-s heavily 0- ore Hard ivtrn A Vengeance (15) (John
Mcﬂernu, US, 1995) Bruce Wlllls, Jenny Irons, Sun! 1.. Jackson. 128 alas. Fro- Fri 18. General release.
as The List 18-24 Aug 1995