Samuel L. Jackson tells story of career at Black History Month Assembly

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Actor Samuel L. Jackson told students at the Black History Assembly Feb. 5 about his willingness to play any role including the villainous Stephen in “Django Unchained” as long as the character he portrays is as “honest to the story as possible.”

When Director Quentin Tarantino first approached Jackson for the role, Jackson had no qualms playing the hated character.

“You really want me to be the most hated Negro in cinematic history? I’m down with that. Let’s get at it,” Jackson said in response to a student question.

A line for questions to Jackson stretched halfway across Taper Gym. Time ran out before all students could ask their questions.

Jackson, the highest grossing film actor of all time, has played iconic characters in more than 100 films in his career such as Jules Winnfield in “Pulp Fiction”, Nick Fury in the “Avengers” and Mace Windu in the “Star Wars” prequels.

“A lot of people think I act too much,” Jackson said, referencing an article he had read in the newspaper recently. “But writers get up and write every day, painters get up and paint every day and actors only have so many acting opportunities.”

“I do this because it feeds me. It feeds my artistic sense,” he added.

Calling the assembly “a time to celebrate African American trailblazers past, present and future,” Black Leadership Awareness and Culture Club leader Justin Carr ’14 said the club had worked since September to get a speaker for the event.

Jackson attended segregated schools growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn. and recalls his first interactions with other races were through Model UN in high school.

He became involved in the civil rights movement while at Morehouse College and was involved in holding administrators at the college hostage to push for reforms in the school.

“I became what was known as a ‘student militant,’” Jackson said. “We locked [administrators] in a building and talked to them for a couple of days.”

He was kicked out of the school and returned two years later to graduate with a degree in acting. Initially, Jackson had intended to major in marine biology to fulfill a childhood dream to be the “black Jacques Cousteau.”

Jackson started off his acting career in New York and shared the stage with future stars such as Lawrence Fishburne and Denzel Washington. At one point, Jackson was an understudy to Morgan Freeman.

“I used to call my agent all the time and ask her if Hollywood called and she would say ‘No, Sam, not today,’” Jackson said. “One day they did.”

Jackson won Best Supporting Actor in the Cannes Film Festival for his breakout role as Gator in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.”

He attributes his success in large part to the fact that he had just come out of a drug rehabilitation program before landing the role.

“It was first time I had acted in a while without a substance in my body,” Jackson said. “My eyes were open, my mind was clear and I was focusing on something other than my own problems. I loved what I was doing and I wanted to do it for a long time.”

When asked what he thought about African-American characters getting killed off in movies earlier, Jackson said “I don’t really read anything into things like that anymore.”

With his early roles on shows such as “Law and Order” where he did die early, Jackson said he still enjoyed playing those characters.

“When I first started, I knew I would die,” Jackson said. “I was trying to figure out what page I died on.”

“But what you try to do is try to make that character so unique so they want to hang out with you. [The producers] will tell their friends ‘I got this guy who dies really well’ and you do the best you can with what you have.”

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