As long-time readers know, I try to make my article image the first place where I think of a person. This proves challenging with behind-the-scenes people, of course, because I always go with the actual person, not a character they’ve voiced or similar. But on the other end of the spectrum, there is Samuel L. Jackson. Because where do I think of Samuel L. Jackson first? And the answer feels, to me, to be “everywhere.” When I think of him, he flickers in my head from Nick Fury to Mister Señor Love Daddy to Elijah Price to John Shaft. Even Mace Windu and Frozone are in there somewhere. There is, in the heart of it, a core Samuel L. Jackson, the Platonic ideal of Samuel L. Jackson, which is his personal image from the interviews I’ve seen, but there are perhaps a dozen or more men superimposed over that in rapid succession.
I honestly think he’d dig that. (I mean, at least they’re all him and none of them are Laurence Fishburne?) It probably helps that one of the characters in there is Charles Morritz of Le Violon Rouge, definitely not what first comes to mind for a lot of people. And Lazarus of Black Snake Moan, in my opinion a movie unfairly delegated to “that one where Christina Ricci is chained to a radiator in her underwear.” I even think his over-the-top ludicrous Octopus was the best part of The Spirit, for all that’s damning with faint praise.
For most people, I think he spent a lot of years as Jules Winfield, and I think that becomes obvious when you look at his career. But what those roles based on it miss is what Jules has in common with Mister Señor Love Daddy, namely the deep moral core. Jules is, yes, a criminal. But when he sees what he believes to have been a moment of divine intervention, he thinks the time has ended and that he must seek what is to come for him next, and he walks away. Similarly, Mister Señor Love Daddy sees the chaos erupting on the street in front of him and tries to serve as the voice of reason, and it’s possibly not intended but you’ll note that literally no one is listening then; we are no longer hearing his broadcast.
I don’t know. I just think he’s been underserved by a lot of his roles. The best of them channel a brilliant actor; the worst have a shouting guy looming at you. A shouting black man, because I think the “black” is an important aspect to those characters, not always in a racially sensitive way. They are using the darkness of his skin to add to the characters’ intimidation factor. Whereas when Samuel L. Jackson wants you to be intimidated, he can do it with just his voice. He doesn’t have to shout or loom or project blackness, and the idea that black is more intimidating is one we should discard anyway.
When Life printed an obituary of Raul Julia, one of the things they said was that they would have loved to have seen him as Lear. It’s kind of the standard by which I’ve judged aging actors ever since; how good do I think they’d be as Lear? It’s not universally helpful, but I think I’ve just pleased myself to bits by picturing Jackson in the role. He’d have the physical presence as well as the acting chops. And his birthday is on the Winter Solstice, and I’ve been amusing myself for just years by making Sol Invictus references about it.
I don’t work as hard as he does, but I work hard enough so that it would be nice if you’d support my Patreon!