“Why should the BET audience see The Avengers? It’s an exciting film that has a lot of heart, and it speaks to the value of individualism,” Samuel L. Jackson responds when asked about The Avengers, the highly anticipated action movie in which he reprises the role he first played in Iron Man. As Nick Fury, who assembles the Marvel superheroes to battle an alien invasion, Jackson has a lot more to do this time out.
“I admire his hard-headedness, his determination, his managerial skills and his toughness, emotionally and physically. His major flaw is he wears his heart on his sleeve,” Jackson says of Fury. He likes playing the capable man in charge. “I think I’ve established I can pull it off,” he adds with a grin, gratified that that the character was changed in the comic book from white to Black pre-film franchise. “In the comic world we’ve accepted people of different colors forever. Green, orange, striped, polka dot, whatever."
Reprising his role with more dialogue this time around required studying lines with an eye patch, but otherwise felt comfortable, says Jackson, who has a nine-picture deal with Marvel Studios. Jackson has no concern that an ongoing character will typecast him. “I do enough different stuff that it won’t happen,” he assures. He has the resume to prove it, with credits ranging from Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Unbreakable, The Incredibles, three Star Wars movies and Snakes on a Plane, to name a few.
He has two other films awaiting release, Meeting Evil, a drama due in theaters May 4 — the same day as The Avengers — in which he personifies the criminal title character, and the May 18 thriller Samaritan, in which he portrays an ex-con trying to leave his past behind. He’s currently reteaming with director Quentin Tarantino on the Christmas Day release Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx as a free Black man searching for his enslaved wife (Kerry Washington). Jackson plays the loyal house slave to a plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) whom he raised from infancy. “I’m the oldest person on the plantation, and all the other slaves give me as much respect as they give the master.” But he and Foxx’s character butt heads “because he’s a free man and I resent that.”
Arriving on set “was strange and surreal,” reports Jackson. “There were 150 Black folk bent over in a cotton field picking cotton and like 70 white people on horses with shotguns, watching.” But he quickly adapted. “You play by the rules of the story’s reality. I can’t think about what I would do. People always say, ‘Man, I couldn’t have been a slave. I would have done this. I would have done that.’ No, you would have done what they told you to do.”
He had “an awesome time” playing Martin Luther King Jr. on Broadway in The Mountaintop, but wants to take a year or two break from the stage. He has stopped setting career goals, saying he had to “kind of let that go and enjoy the fact that I’m able to get up and go to work and make some interesting choices, hopefully.”
On a personal level, he’s proudest of the fact that his 30-year-old daughter Zoe (with wife LaTanya Richardson), a freelance producer, “has done as well as she has. She’s not affected by who I am or what I’ve done. She’s made her own way.” And professionally, he’s most pleased that he has a “body of work, which is what I always wanted.” For Jackson, recognition from the industry isn’t what motivates or defines him. “I just want to continue to do good work.”
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(Photo: Lester Cohen/WireImage)