HAWAII INT'L FILM FESTIVAL
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Samuel L. Jackson received the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival's first Achievement in Acting award last night at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
As much as one might hope that this epitome of cool will stumble into the Kahala Mandarin Oriental's Presidential Suite, wearing black socks with sneakers and plaid shorts with a striped shirt, actor Samuel L. Jackson disappoints.
"Hey, how are you?" says a stylishly dressed Jackson in a firm, friendly, rhythmic tone not too unlike that of his proselytizing "Pulp Fiction" character Jules. "Is it nice here or what? I know you live here, but you do recognize how nice it is, don't you? You do, right?"
Jackson is in Honolulu to receive the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival's first Achievement in Acting award, given at last night's SRO event at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
The 56-year-old, 6-foot-3 actor made an indelible mark on American cinema with his "Pulp Fiction" character, portraying the Bible-quoting hitman.
Jackson first came to public and critical notice in a memorable small role as a drug addict in Spike Lee's 1991 "Jungle Fever," for which he was awarded the first -- and only -- Best Supporting Performance Award ever given by the judges at that year's Cannes Film Festival.
After his star-making turn in Quentin Tarentino's "Pulp Fiction" from '94, Jackson then played opposite Bruce Willis in "Die Hard with a Vengeance," the No. 1 international grossing movie the following year. Two years later, Jackson worked with Tarantino again, this time on "Jackie Brown," for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Subsequent movies included "A Time to Kill" (for which he received another Golden Globe nomination and an NAACP Image Award), "The Negotiator" and "The Red Violin."
Jackson realized his dream of being part of the "Star Wars" mythology when he first appeared in "Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" in 1999, and again in subsequent episodes, as Mace Windu. From there, it's been mostly starring roles in movies like "Shaft," "Unbreakable," "Changing Lanes," "S.W.A.T.," the voice of Frozone in "The Incredibles," "Coach Carter" and "The Man."
He just finished filming "Black Snake Moan," written and directed by Craig Brewer ("Hustle and Flow"), in Memphis, Tenn.; the thriller "Snakes on a Plane," shot one day in August on Oahu; and "Freedomland," which will be released in February.
The "Snakes on a Plane" title had at one point been changed to "Pacific Flight 121," when Jackson says "I grumbled about it."
"I told them I took this job because it was 'Snakes on a Plane,' not 'Pacific Flight 121,'" he says. "It's like, OK, this movie is about snakes on a plane. Let's not think we're making 'Poseidon Adventure.' We're making a movie about snakes on a plane. OK?"
The production kept about 500 snakes on the set, including a couple venomous ones that had been defanged.
"My agent made them put a clause in the contract that they couldn't put any snake within 25 feet of me," he said. "But I used to go into the snake room so I would get over any fear."
IN HIS 34 years as a professional actor, Jackson has made more than 80 films, but soundly rejects being described as "a workaholic."
"I just tend to go to work," he said. "When I was doing theater, I was always doing a play, rehearsing for a play, or auditioning for a play. I really don't know another way to do it.
"Actors act or you wait tables. My business is acting."
Jackson reads, on average, eight scripts or treatments a week.
"I want to know what I'm doing three movies out," he says. "When you finish a project, and you do not know what the next one is, actors tend to think you're never going to work again. (It's the) nature of the beast."
It's all part of the work ethic he learned as a kid.
"I grew up in a household full of people who went to work all the time," he recalls. "Everybody in the house went to work. Other than two weeks of vacation a year, that was it. Every day, somebody was hitting it. I know how to get up and go to work."
Jackson is also Hollywood's biggest chameleon, immersing himself in a wide variety of roles in small-budget arthouse films, as well as huge blockbusters.
His acting career really began after graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a degree in dramatic arts. He went on to perform in numerous stage plays, and originated roles in two of the late August Wilson's plays at Yale Repertory: Boy Willie in "The Piano Lesson" and Wolf in "Two Trains Running." While at Morehouse, Jackson made his film debut in a thing called "Together for Days."
Jackson's sometimes-menacing persona on screen is in striking contrast to the actor's openness and honesty. In response to a question of why he became an actor, he says, "I've given that a lot of thought. When I was very young and my aunt was a fourth-grade teacher in Chattanooga, Tenn. -- and she had been a dramatic arts major in college -- every time her elementary school had plays and pageants, she was in charge and never had enough boys to perform. So she put me in everything she did and I got very used to performing.
"See, acting gives me the chance to not be me, because I can be me all the time," he said. "When I grew up, I read a lot of books. I put myself in a lot of interesting situations in my head that ordinarily a kid from Chattanooga would never expect to do. I was fighting all kinds of things in my mind and having gunfights with imaginary cowboys, and battling pirates."
What Jackson especially loves about acting is solving a character's dilemma, finding a way to express a certain emotion and make it make sense.
"It's therapy without paying for it," he says. "I get to beat up guys, kill people, get to cry in a safe environment. Here's the secret to doing a lot of the real emotional stuff: get right to that point where the audience knows you should cry and want to cry, make them involved, and that's kinda cool."