Mr. Beaks Interviews Mr. Samuel L. Jackson Of LAKEVIEW TERRACE!
Published at: Sept. 19, 2008, 4:24 a.m. CST by headgeek
Attention, America: Samuel L. Jackson is about to take over your multiplexes. After enjoying an uncharacteristically lengthy pause of about seven months (if you don't count his closing credits cameo in IRON MAN), Jackson is back with a vengeance this fall with LAKEVIEW TERRACE, SOUL MEN and THE SPIRIT. And, as is befitting the man's versatility, one's a drama, one's a comedy and one's a massively stylized comic book adaptation!
First up is Neil LaBute's LAKEVIEW TERRACE, a smarter-than-average formula thriller about a veteran police officer who bullies a young interracial couple that moves into his ideal neighborhood. Jackson plays Abel Turner, the aging cop who doesn't take kindly to the socially progressive behavior of the upwardly mobile thirtysomethings looking to flip the house next door. Abel is a man of God and a man of rules, and he doesn't need two troublemaking liberals filling his young kids' heads with modern notions of sexuality and racial harmony. Abel likes things the way they are: firmly under his control. And if he has to break a few laws to keep things that way, so be it; with the law on his side, he's nothing to worry about.
As I mentioned in the preface to my LaBute interview, LAKEVIEW TERRACE could've easily settled for the tried-and-true; however, thanks to the input of playwright Howard Korder and Jackson, the film is surprisingly thoughtful for a PG-13 release from Screen Gems. It also gives Jackson a fairly complex role to inhabit. Abel may be unnecessarily confrontational, but his protectiveness is entirely understandable; it's hard goddamn work raising children when the other parents just don't give a shit.
I've sat with Jackson a couple of times at roundtable interviews, but this is the first time I've gotten him all to myself. Though we go a bit heavy on the "hows" and "whys" of his character in the early going (to be fair, LT really is an effective conversation/argument starter), he really got warmed up when we started getting into the purpose of acting. Many people have criticized Jackson for working too much; to hear him tell it, he probably doesn't work enough. And you have to admire that: the guy just loves acting.
He also loves golfing, which is why I'm including this opening piece of small talk.
Mr. Beaks: Did you get a round in today?
Samuel L. Jackson: Yes. Six o'clock [in the morning].
Beaks: You try to play every day, right?
Jackson: Yeah. I got no job. I gotta play golf.
Beaks: (Laughing) Have you heard about that reality show Charles Barkley's planning, where he's going to have Hank Haney fix his golf swing?
Jackson: (Laughs) Okay.
Beaks: I saw him talking about it the other day. Someone asked him what happens if Haney fixes his swing in one show. He's said, "Trust me, it's going to take more than one show."
Jackson: Oh, yeah. I can tell.
Beaks: He jokes about it, but that swing is ugly. That's got to be a golfer's worst nightmare.
Jackson: (Laughing) I don't know. I've never had that issue. I've played with Charles, and he's got a pretty fluid swing when the ball's not in front of him; it's when he steps up to the ball that it gets all weird. I guess he's just got to clear his head.
Beaks: I guess. It's just so terrifying to behold. Moving on to happier things, we were talking earlier at the roundtable about how LAKEVIEW TERRACE starts with your character of Abel. He is, ostensibly, the protagonist. And we get Abel. He's heavy-handed with the kids, but there's nothing nefarious in correcting your son's english; he really seems to have their best interests at heart. When you first read the script, did you see him as a villain or just a guy who gives in to a great deal of stress?
Jackson: When I first read the script, it was a different incarnation. He was a bit crazier, and... he was a clear-cut villain. For me, I was thinking that was too easy; there should be some dynamic there that gives cause for him to feel a certain way. Or for him reacting to [Chris, Patrick Wilson's character] the way he does. It's interesting to figure out that relationship with [Abel]. Then we find out he's got a neighborhood watch thing, and he busts the kid when he's parked smoking; he realizes he's sneaking around and doing other stuff. And then finding the cigarette butts. Abel's finding reasons to mess with him. Still, they could've defused it just as easily as it got out of hand.
Beaks: Right. They don't handle Abel's antagonism very rationally.
Jackson: Exactly. There are ways they could've tried to defuse it, but they didn't. I mean, everything Chris says to Abel is confrontational. "I don't know what your problem with us is, but you need to get over it." And it's like, "Or what?" There are other ways you can say that.
Beaks: And the fact that Chris is so insistent on handling this. He wants to be a man. But he backs down every time. He's intimidated. He's trying to be something that he isn't. And Abel just devours him every time it becomes an issue.
Jackson: (Laughing) When we get to that place, yeah.
Beaks: But that's what I like about the movie. It's trying to get away from being a straightforward thriller in favor of being... more of a dissection of class and race--
Jackson: A study in society of sorts, and how we deal with stuff. We keep wanting to get around the issue, but it's there. Racism is there. And it's there on both sides in an interesting sort of way.
Beaks: And then there's the encroaching fires serving as a metaphor for the emotional conflagration.
Jackson: Bringing the stew to a boil.
Beaks: It's reminiscent of the way in which DO THE RIGHT THING used a heat wave to hasten conflict. LAKEVIEW TERRACE has to become a thriller eventually, but it at least tries to address these issues in a thoughtful fashion before giving the audience its rousing finale.
Jackson: It even reaches a point where Abel may be coming around. Things are about to mellow out until the [spoiler] happens. Had [spoiler] not happened, everything might've worked itself out. Might've.
Beaks: When you work with guys like LaBute and Korder, who have a playwriting background, do you feel like there's a little more meat on the bone in terms of character and theme?
Jackson: Well, it takes me back to when I was doing theater. Character development was important, my relationships with the characters inside the story were important... and how those things particularly played out from beginning to middle to end. There's something there that connects these people. Animosity becomes a part of it. Jealousy becomes a part of it. Like when he sees them screwing in the pool? He doesn't have that anymore. He doesn't have a woman. That's anger. And the fact that his kids saw it; they don't need to know that sort of thing yet. I mean, he's got a teenage daughter that's hormonal and bugging out, and she goes over to talk to the woman who was doing that? Who knows what she's saying to his daughter. I mean, he probably knows in the back of his mind that she's not saying, "Girl, you need to go out there and get you some!" But it's one of those things. He doesn't want her influenced by this woman. There's a lot of things going on there. And the fact that you've got people who are dialogue and character driven makes this all the richer; they can write things that resonate as true to the audience because they've set up the relationships in the proper way. My daughter being rebellious with me and not knowing how to deal with boys because of my strictness, or even the question of "There's a white kid who likes me. Is it cool for me to be okay with that?" She has her own dynamic going that Abel has no understanding of whatsoever.
Beaks: When you're lining up roles - and you're pretty prolific - do you think, "Okay, this one's a meaty role. I'll do something serious, and then I'll go have fun with THE SPIRIT?"
Jackson: No, those are accidents. I do movies as they show up or they're ready to go. I don't make a plan like, "Okay, I'm doing a heavy drama now. After this, I've got to do a comedy, then an action picture..." No. Whatever picture is ready to go after the one I just finished, I jump right in there. I'm actually getting ready to do a pretty intense movie at the moment.
Beaks: That's a thriller.
Jackson: An intense thriller. I'm an interrogator who's trying to find out where a guy's planted three nuclear devices.
Beaks: You produce as well. You've done the two films with Kasi Lemmons [EVE'S BAYOU and THE CAVEMAN'S VALENTINE] and AFRO SAMURAI. Can you see getting to a place where you'll produce most of your movies?
Jackson: Not necessarily. I'm still like a gun-for-hire out here. Interestingly enough, in the off time I've had since SOUL MEN, I got this development deal with CBS. So I'm in the middle of creating and producing television shows right now. It's interesting. It's a lot quicker than the movies. In the movies, you can be in development hell for seven or eight years; with a TV show, you go in there and pitch it, and they either want it or they don't. I kind of like the swiftness of that. And that might satisfy the creative need that I have to produce or whatever. I like TV as much as I like film, so if I can produce television shows and create work opportunities for other people, that'd be great.
Beaks: I guess that feeds into your desire to move from genre to genre. You like to do a little comedy, you like to do a little action...
Jackson: And I like to move on.
Beaks: (Laughing) You're not precious about the work at all.
Beaks: You're not going to be like Daniel Day Lewis, and have yourself thrown in a solitary cell for six weeks to understand imprisonment.
Jackson: No thanks. I think I can figure it out up here. (Taps his head)
Beaks: Earlier, we were talking about TROPIC THUNDER, and that idea about going to ridiculous extremes to get an Oscar nomination. Have you ever caught yourself getting like that?
Jackson: Other people think about that. I don't particularly care one way or another. "Oh, my god! This is my Academy Award!" No, it's not. It's just a job. Go and do it. You treat all jobs the same. They're all important. It's all about the story, the characters and interacting with these other people. And if something happens because of it? Great! But you can't go to work every day going, "Today is the day I win the Oscar. When the Academy sees this scene... Ooh!" I joke about stuff like that all the time. We'll be on set, and the director will be like, "I just need you to open this door." You do it, and they'll be like, "Yeah! Cut! Print that!" And you're like, "Whoa! I can't wait for the Academy to see that!" It's just a big joke. "Wait 'til the foreign press sees this! This is Globe material, Jackson!" Or occasionally you're like, "Man, we're gonna get slimed for this one. Kids' Choice is going to love this!"
Beaks: Kids love door opening scenes.
Jackson: Yeah. Here we go!
Beaks: But have you ever worked with actors who go nuts over awards?
Jackson: Of course! There are guys who only do award worthy movies. You know who they are. But the job has to be fun. If I didn't think the job was fun, I never would've done SNAKES ON A PLANE. I would've never done THE SPIRIT. There, you show up, and you're in a cartoon; it's the opportunity to have a lot of fun. Good. It should be fun. And there are a lot of actors I just can't conceive of in a comedy. It's kind of like, "Dude, lighten up. Every job doesn't have to be all of that."
Beaks: It's been interesting to see Pacino and De Niro back away from prestige films--
Jackson: Right, but a guy like Dustin Hoffman always did comedy. Laurence Olivier did comedy. Sidney Poitier did comedy. It works. It's acting. And some movies should just be entertaining. I mean, I get that there's this deep thing where everybody wants to leave their mark on the industry. Well, one of the ways to leave your mark on the industry is to entertain people. That's good. People love a lot of actors who don't have Oscars. And it's kind of cool to be in stuff that lasts in peoples' minds. Most people don't remember who won the Oscar from year to year. They couldn't care less. If it's a movie that they loved and entertained them, and they see you and go, "Dude, I loved that movie you were in! I love your work!"... that's important. That's what it's about. People can't go, "Oh, hey, weren't you in that movie where they... oh, yeah. You're the guy who does all those serious movies."
Beaks: So it's cool to have someone quoting not even the obvious stuff, but, say, GREAT WHITE HYPE?
Jackson: Yeah. Or "Where's my super suit!?!?" And, you know, as much as people talk about George not being able to write or whatever, I'm terrifically fucking pleased to be in STAR WARS. C'mon! STAR WARS is going to be studied forever by people going to film school. And I couldn't wait to say, "May the force be with you."
Beaks: Who wouldn't be? No matter what anyone thinks of the movies, every kid from my generation would've killed to say "May the force be with you" in a STAR WARS movie.
Jackson: That was beyond my wildest dreams, to be made a jedi. You can't beat that.
Beaks: And then to dictate how you'd die and what color your light saber would be?
Jackson: Well, once you get comfortable with George you can start asking for light saber colors and stuff like that.
Beaks: It's interesting that you have that comfort level with Lucas. He's become this controversial, distant figure.
Jackson: No, George is a funny guy. I enjoyed talking to him. George was like, "You know, I like you because you're like a ditch digger." I'm like, "What!?!?" And he'd say, "You get up every day, you know there's a ditch to be dug, and you go on and dig it. You're not one of those actors who's like 'I can only do one or two films a year because I don't want to burn myself out.'"
I'm an actor. My passion is acting. And if I only did one film a year, I wouldn't really be passionate about what I do. If you're not acting or actively trying to do what you do, then you're not truly passionate about what you do. I can't do one film every year. I have a need to create. I have a need. As much as I need to have dinner or breakfast, I need to act. If I had my way, I'd be doing TV, film, theater... all of it. Acting opportunities are rare in a lifetime. There are only so many, so you take 'em every chance you get.
You've done a lot of green screen acting by now. A lot of actors bitch about it. What are your feelings?
Jackson: It's that kid in a room, alone, doing whatever he wants to do. You can have as much fun as you want in this particular space. I'm an only child. I did it. I spent a lot of time in my room reading books and fighting stuff that wasn't there. Put me in a big green room, and I know just what to do!
And you'll be seeing him do it a lot this December in THE SPIRIT. But first you'll get LAKEVIEW TERRACE this Friday, September 19th. It's worth seeing.