Sam Rises to the Occasion as Lazarus
Samuel L. Jackson
The Black Snake Moan Interview with Kam Williams
With over 100 acting credits already on his resume’, Samuel Leroy Jackson remains one of the hardest working thespians in Hollywood. Nominated for an Oscar in 1996 for Pulp Fiction, the versatile actor has tackled every genre of film over the course of his illustrious career.
Not one to be pigeonholed, he's handled a variety of roles, ranging from a drug addict to a gangster to a mailman to a cop to a soldier to a musician to a hobo to a coach to an alcoholic to a minister to a villain to a teacher to an arms dealer to a hostage negotiator to a Jedi master to a hero who saves his fellow passengers from snakes on a plane.
Here, he reflects on his latest outing as Lazarus opposite Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan. Set in Memphis, and written and directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), the picture revolves around the efforts of a born-again bluesman to exorcise the demons of the nearly-naked nymphomaniac he finds lying beaten and abandoned along the roadway.
Black Snake Moan
Rated R for
profanity, nudity, graphic sexuality, violence, drug use, and ethnic slurs.
Running time: 118 minutes
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Kam WIlliams (KW): In your last film you said, ’I have had it with these bleeping snakes on this bleeping plane!’ Did you encounter any snakes while making this movie?
Samuel L. Jackson (SLJ): Well, it's the South, so there's snakes. I heard there were some around but, no, I didn't see ’em.
KW: How challenging was it to have to sing the blues for this role?
SLJ: Fortunately, Mississippi Delta Blues doesn't need a silky smooth, Luther Vandross-type voice. It's kinda more about making sure the emotion of what you're saying comes out than being a great singer.
KW: Were you already playing guitar before you took this role?
SLJ: I learned to play. It was one of the things that I spent the most time doing. I was lucky to have maybe six or seven months to work that out. I had a really good guitar teacher in the beginning, Felicia Collins, in New York, while I was shooting Freedomland. Then when I left to make Snakes on a Plane in Vancouver, the prop master was an awesome guitarist. He spent a lot of time with me in my trailer every day. It was something I did daily for months until I was comfortable doing it. And it actually became something I looked forward to doing, so by the time we got to the film, I was pretty facile. I'd actually taught myself to play the songs.
KW: Do you think the way that Lazarus chooses to take Rae (Ricci) home and restrain her instead of taking her to a hospital was realistic, given the South's history of overreacting to black men being with white women?
SLJ: Interestingly enough, I understand the choice, just because I understand the rural South, because I spent a lot of time in it when I was a kid. My grandfather's brothers were farmers. I spent time on the farm as a kid with them, walking through the fields, working, and hanging out. But there are instances when you find yourself in a circumstance. If you put her in your truck and take her to a hospital, there are a lot more questions than if you just keep her at your house and try to nurse her back to health. Hopefully, she’ll just walk away. That choice that he made of just keeping her there’ I mean, he was sort of out of his mind in another kind of way at that point. He’d lost this woman that he had no control over. And now, all of a sudden he has a woman and she's kinda out of control in that interesting, sort of immoral way that he pictured his wife. So, he wants to control Rae, and to fix her. And the only way he can think to do that is to put this chain on her, and still give her some amount of freedom while pumping this Biblical medicine into her.
KW: What was it like shooting so many scenes with a scantily-clad co-star?
SLJ: I guess after about an hour of looking at Christina in those little panties and that shirt, you kinda get over it, because that was what she had on every day. And she didn't put on a robe or anything between shots and hide herself. She kinda just hung out. So, you get over it pretty quickly. The great thing was that during the rehearsal period, Christina and I developed this really interesting bond and trust which kinda allowed her to go anywhere she wanted to, and I would support her in that to the point where, I guess as an actor, or as Samuel L. Jackson, I became another sort of Lazarus figure.
KW: What did Craig [director Craig Brewer] tell you about your character?
SLJ: [Chuckles] Actually, Craig didn't tell me anything about the guy. Once I got the script and read it, they went through all the machinations of ’That's not who you're supposed to send the script to,’ and it was like, ’Okay, I'll go meet him,’ and whatever. Then Craig saw me on television talking about my life and decided, ’Oh, he's got enough layers in his life to be able to play this guy.’ I'm an actor who shows up to rehearsal with a lotta stuff. I work out characters, and put together biographies and histories. So, by the time we got there and started rehearsing, it was very wise of him to just sit there and watch me and Christina kinda go through what we were going through and figuring out how our relationship worked as two people who had never encountered anyone like the other before. She’d never met anyone she couldn't manipulate sexually, and I'd never met anybody with a sexual dysfunction like that. How many people know when they've run into a real nymphomaniac or know exactly what it is or how to handle that? To him, she was just somebody who was possessed by a devil, or evil. And the only thing he knew to do was to exorcise it.
KW: So, what did you draw on in creating your character?
SLJ: To me, he seems to be an amalgam of my grandfather and his brothers, guys I worked with in the fields and talked to, people of the earth who drank hard when it was time to drink. And they loved the blues, and they sang, and told stories, and they did all this stuff. It was a nice way for me to pay homage to some men who developed me in a particular way which made me want to be a storyteller.
KW: How would you characterize Christina's performance?
SLJ: I think Christina's performance is one of the bravest performances I've seen by a younger actress. I'm sure there are a lot of young women who probably wouldn’t touch this thing. I saw maybe three or four different audition tapes, but like I said, we talk about sexual dysfunction and nymphomania, but we never see what that process is. And it's interesting watching whatever that thing is, internally, that takes her over, and the way that she succumbs to it all the time. Rather than fight it, she lets it happen, not realizing that her power is in resisting it.
KW: Do you think some might see the movie as misogynistic?
SLJ: Titillating, yes. Misogynistic? I don't know. It's not often that you see a young actress in that state of undress for two-thirds of a film. It's kind of like early Helen Mirren in that regard. I used to like watching Helen Mirren's early films, because she was always naked. It's titillating.
KW: Finally, what did you think of Justin Timberlake's performance?
SLJ: It would have been easy for him to choose a role that allowed him to be more like himself. Young guys don't tend to want to portray people who have frailties or are less than macho. So, it was interesting for him to choose a character so opposite of what most women or guys would want their hero to be. And he wasn't afraid to do it. He stepped up and gave it his best shot, and it works for me in the film.
Black Snake Moan - Film Review
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