He’s a muse to Spike and Quentin. He’s a Marvel Stalwart, a Jedi, and a style icon. Given his magical way with a certain four-syllable word and the fact that he’s been so good for so long—120 movies over nearly forty years—we might think we know Samuel L. Jackson. But do we?
Samuel L. Jackson is driving our golf cart pedal to floor through the unseasonably cold southern California morning fog, pushing the whining electric engine to its limits. It is 8:15 a.m., and he and his foursome have already played nine holes. I met up with them at the turn and hopped into Jackson’s cart as they continued on the course, interrupting their mild shit-talking with sporadic occurrences of golf on the back nine. It is one of those bizarrely random Los Angeles groupings of people you never imagine together. Richard Schiff puffing on a cigarette in a faded Yankees cap and pink-trimmed performance golf slacks. An unfailingly upbeat producer-writer who spends much of the time encouraging everyone’s shots and explaining the game of cricket. A young semipro in a razor-crisp polo who drives the ball off the tee like he’s opening up a portal to another dimension. Don Cheadle is supposed to be here but is absent for unknown reasons. (We eventually discover on the clubhouse television that it has to do with him appearing on Good Morning America at that precise moment.) I later hear that Josh Duhamel frequently rounds out the group. I have never been on a golf course in my life.
Jackson drives, peppering me with questions (“Have white folks started confusing you with Brian Tyree Henry yet?”) and gleefully navigating around obstacles in our path by running two wheels up on the wet grass despite bountiful signage warning us not to do just that. Each time he does this, the cart threatens to pull a little movie-stunt two-wheel tip and throw me onto the asphalt pathway. “Engage your core,” he tells me with an 85 percent straight face. It is good advice from a seventy-year-old man from Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am vaguely scared and trying to play it cool. He is driving decisively, wholly unconcerned. At his age, the Hollywood veteran wears “wholly unconcerned” as comfortably as the faded black Adidas bucket hat he golfs in.
This becomes clear to me when I later interview him in the country-club restaurant and he sprinkles n-words and motherfuckers about the dining area like handfuls of glitter as Grandpa- and Memaw-type club members look awkwardly into their eggs Benedict. He behaves not only like a man who belongs here but also like one who basically owns the place. His casual inattention to the perceived authority of white power structures is so deeply woven into his way of being that in his presence it seems bizarre that anyone, anywhere, would think to behave differently. A lot of people like to say they don’t give a fuck. Samuel L. Jackson simply doesn’t.
What he does care a great deal about is acting and movies (and golf—he is coy about his handicap but acknowledges it lies in low single digits), and he approaches his craft with both a childlike love for the medium and a specialist’s obsession with technique. This combination has led him to enjoy one of the most prolific film careers of any actor alive, despite his relatively late-in-life big break. Perhaps only Nicolas Cage comes close to achieving Jackson’s ability to pop up across a pantheon of wildly disparate titles, ranging from the sublime (Pulp Fiction, Unbreakable, Eve’s Bayou) to the absurd (Snakes on a Plane, Jumper, The Man). I had heard that he averaged four releases a year, which I thought was insane until he corrected me and told me that it was closer to five.
In two separate calendar years, 1990 and 2008, Samuel L. Jackson’s name was on the call sheet for seven different films. Moreover, he has found his way into megafranchises like Star Wars and The Incredibles, and as former SHIELD director Nick Fury, Jackson has shot eleven different Marvel movies, including four Avengers films.
But if any year is the year of Sam Jackson, 2019 looks to be it. In addition to his upcoming Marvel work, he will star in the sequel to 2000’s cult-classic remake of Shaft and handle narration for the much-anticipated docuseries Enslaved.This year also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pulp Fiction, which will be celebrated with hundreds of theatrical screenings and a bevy of appearances and interviews by the man who immortalized Jules Winnfield. The Jackson-led M. Night Shyamalan sequel Glass opened the year atop the box office for multiple weeks, and between that and his Marvel commitments, the actor could spend the first year of his seventies with more weeks at number one than any other working actor in 2019—a remarkable feat for a man who is already the highest-grossing film actor of all time, with his movies accounting for an estimated $13 billion combined.