Samuel L. Jackson
The Snakes on a Plane Interview with Kam Williams
Born in Washington, DC on December 21, 1948, Samuel Leroy Jackson made his film debut in 1972 in ’Together for Days' while still a student at Morehouse College.
Jackson went on to receive critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Jules, the philosophizing hitman in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
Most recently, Sam wrapped production on Home of the Brave, a film co-starring Jessica Biel and 50 Cent which chronicles the struggle of three soldiers returning home after a lengthy tour of duty in Iraq to cope with life after war.
Jackson has also completed work on Black Snake Moan, filmed entirely on location in Memphis, with director Craig Brewer (’Hustle and Flow’). There, Jackson plays named Lazarus, a blues musician who attempts to cure a character portrayed by Christina Ricci of nymphomania.
Here, Jackson talks about his current release, Snakes on a Plane, where he's an FBI Agent escorting an eyewitness to court when all hell breaks loose after a ruthless assassin releases hundreds of poisonous snakes at 30,000 feet over the Pacific. Even before the flick hit theaters, the Internet was abuzz over one of his character's lines delivered with Sam's trademark intensity, namely, "I've had it with these motherf*cking snakes on this motherf*cking plane!"
Curiously, the picture's title is reported to have originated over drinks at a Hollywood happy hour after work during which some colleagues playfully competed to come up with the worst pitch for a movie.
Kam Williams (KW): What interested you in making this movie?
Samuel L. Jackson (SLJ): The title, actually. I was reading the trades and I saw that my friend, Ronny Yu [original director, subsequently replaced] was about to start production on this film called Snakes on a Plane. I thought, ’Wow! What's that?’ I read the synopsis, poisonous snakes loose on an airplane. So, I emailed him, ’Ronnie, are you doing this movie Snakes on a Plane?’ He wrote back, ’Yeah, it's a horror movie.’ I asked, ’Can I be in it?’ ’Really?’
’Yeah, I want to be in it.’ So, he started contacting people to let them know I liked that kind of movie and would want to do it.
KW: I guess the title told you all you needed to know.
SLJ: Yeah, that's all I needed.
KW: Did you like this type of movie when you were a kid?
SLJ: Totally! Disaster movies, monster movies, anything that just made you scream.
KW: Scary B-movies.
SLJ: Not everything's made to win an Academy Award.
KW: Tell me a little about your character, Neville Flynn?
SLJ: He sort of feels like he faces danger all the time, so he doesn't get overly excited when things happen. He tries to remain calm and makes sure he gives off an air of confidence when he's trying to fix or solve problems.
KW: What's Snakes on a Plane's basic plotline?
SLJ: In the process of transporting a witness from Hawaii to Los Angeles on a plane, Eddie Kim [played by Byron Lawson] has hired someone to put a crate-load of poisonous snakes aboard that are time-released when we're over the ocean and can't turn back, to kill any and everybody on the plane, and hopefully bring the plane down, so that the witness doesn't arrive in Los Angeles. So, at a certain point during this flight we end up in a big snake flight. [Chuckles]
KW: So, what's your mission as the film's hero?
SLJ: To act brave, kill snakes, and save the day. [Laughs]
KW: What do you think makes this movie compelling?
SLJ: A lot of people don't like flying, most people don't like snakes. It's sort of a safe and exciting way to confront those fears.
KW: And what would you say is the key to Snakes on a Plane's success?
SLJ: The key to making a movie like this is having good victims, so that when passengers die, the audience is sad because they die. Or they’re surprised that a certain person got killed, or they’re very glad that whoever the jerk was on the plane that was making all the noise is killed.
KW: How did you like working with Julianna Margulies?
SLJ: Who's she?
KW: Your co-star?
SLJ: [Laughs] Julianna was actually great. In the beginning, for some reason, we all thought that the snakes were actually going to be on the plane with us. And she wasn't so happy about that. But as things progressed, and we realized that we were just going to have to make up whatever was going on around us, she was a fantastic person to hang around with and have fun with, because we were all in this little contained space, the people who were survivors. We got less and less cast members as the movie progressed.
We spent a lot of time together and had a lot of laughs together. She came to work ready to do it every day, and was very game for all the disaster kind of stuff. Being strung up in the air, getting knocked down, fighting snakes with axes, and pulling the plane up. We had a great time doing it all. She's a real action heroine.
KW: How would you describe you character's relationship with hers, Claire?
SLJ: We have some sort of immediate chemistry or connection. She's the other person that's sort of the anchor on the plane. She knows where everything is, so when we're trying to find things or get things turned back on, and the pilots aren’t around anymore, she's the person I can depend on to kind of guide me around that plane.
KW: What's it like making a movie like this?
SLJ: It's kinda like coming to work and getting on a big amusement park ride that's supposed to be a thrill ride. we're on there, and the hydraulics are working the plane, and we're kinda stumbling around. While we're doing stuff, there's a snake over here that pops out, and we kinda react to the snake that pops out.
KW: Did you like shooting inside an actual plane?
SLJ: The more real things can be, the better they are for us in terms of the things that we can react to. So, having a plane that did all those things, and having all that stuff go on on the plane, even down to turning off the air conditioning and just having it so hot that you know what it must be like to be in a suffocating space like that, has been a big help for all of us.
KW: How was it working around over 400 live snakes?
SLJ: The first day I showed up on the set, I actually went in the room to just kinda see what the snakes were, to look at them, and see how they were dealing with them. Interestingly enough, they were doing a snake test for when the air bags fall down, and they were dumping a big, f*cking load of snakes on his head. It was kinda fun to watch the snakes hit him. [Chuckles] Some of them stuck, some of them went into his pockets, some went down his shirt, and all kinda stuff, but I was okay with ’em.
More Interviews and information about Samuel L. Jackson
Snakes on the Plane (2006) Review
Freedomland Interview (2006) Interview with Samuel L.