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Samuel L. Jackson – Makes the Jump into Director Doug Liman's New Film

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Samuel L. Jackson

Makes the Jump Into Director Doug Liman's New Film

By Brad Balfour

One thing that pulled actor Samuel L. Jackson into doing Jumper, director Doug Liman's excursion into science fiction, was his fascination for the notion of teleporting. Although his character Roland the Paladin, does not have the power to "jump," he has the power to stop and kill the "Jumpers." As to why... well that's what the whole story is about and that intrigued Jackson.

Jackson is a man who loves films and fantasy. He's the first to admit he's a hardcore comic book fan and that he enjoys playing roles which allow him to push the envelope, the more the merrier. When Liman explored the spy genre with the first installment of the Bourne saga — The Bourne Identity — his hyper-kinetic style set in motion a whole series, so Jackson figured he would do the same with Jumper (based on the book series by Stephen Gould). The 60-year-old Jackson has made a career of crazy and wild cinematic adventures, from roles in the Star Wars series to the lead in Snakes on A Plane. In fact, he's done such a good job that the Guinness Book of World Records has listed him as having been (cumulatively) the most financially successful actor. When you first saw the script for Jumper, what appealed to you about it? I didn't see a script. My first encounter of this film was Doug calling me up and wanting to meet with me. And us having a discussion down in the Village, about what it was and what he was planning to do with it. "Teleportation.... Yeah." He didn't actually tell me that my character [Roland, lead hunter of the Paladins] couldn't teleport. I didn't find that out till later. Were you disappointed? Sort of, yeah. But it's a cool concept. We [Paladins] can't do it, but we still track these kids down and kill them. Part of the story in the beginning was us trying to create this machine that could hold the scars open so we could go through them and chase these kids. Now we have the machine [that can enter their worm hole] and are always trying to find a scar that's fresh.

What would you do if you could teleport? I'd hang out in Capetown. I like Capetown. It's a great city. I might jump into India, Katmandu, places like that. Jump in and out. I don't want to hang out there. Did you develop a backstory about the Paladins in your own head? I did, and I'm not sure if it's the right one. That was at a time that, when the film opens — the first time you see me — I was talking to a little kid in a bed, my son. I was going off to hunt some jumpers. It was his birthday, and he was asking if I was coming back for his birthday. I had to explain to him that I had this very important job to do. His grandfather, great-grandfather and grandmother had done the job, and now me, and then hopefully one day he would do it. It was an explanation of who the Paladins were and what was happening. I hung on to that, and then Doug started changing it. So I'm not really sure what the back story is now. Hopefully, this film will be successful enough that we can find out what that is — what that war is, when it started, how it is, who discovered who first. Doug Liman seems to be pretty hyperkinetic, the way that you see his films. How is it working with him?

That way (laughs). Doug is the kind of guy where you have to be ready for anything on any given day. You'll be in the middle of something, and Doug will have an idea about something you've already done, and he'll say, ‘We have to go back and do this thing.’ You're like, okay And he'll go, 'No, we've got to do it now.' And that's how it is. You have to drop everything and go and do it. This film is quite hyperkinetic. When you saw it put together, was it what you expected from the script? All films are missing things that you did. You do a lot of stuff, and you go and watch it. Because of time restraints, sometimes, or they just want the movie to move in a certain kind of way. There are lots of things that we did in this film that in the permutation I saw weren't there. So I'm interested in finding out what's still there. Doug has a reputation for making good films. They have a circuitous history, getting there from one place to the next. But they all seem to work. I'm anxious to see what this is. Some people would say you're the bad guy — but my scenario is that the Paladins weren't necessarily bad people In Jumpers. Were you trying to strike a balance by not being too mean and evil? I'm not sure. I was just doing what they asked me to do. Then a short while ago, when we did some enhancement shots, we did a scene where I killed a kid hanging from a tree — because they actually need people to see he is a hardcore guy. I think of him as that. It's not actually true that these kids are just innocent kids.

Hayden [Christensen's character David Rice] jumps in and out of banks stealing money.

Hayden and Jamie [Bell, playing the rogue jumper Griffin who is killing off Paladins] are different types of guys. Hayden is enjoying the fact that he can jump — going on dates, going surfing. Jamie is off the deep end, very isolated, borderline psychotic — definitely a killer in his own right. My character keeps saying to him, "Eventually you go bad." He definitely knows something about jumpers that we haven't explored in this film. He is enforcing, keeping these kids in line. And these rips they are leaving in the atmosphere could be environmentally unsafe. So there are lots of gray areas in terms of whom the Paladins are and what they do. Are you passionate about making a sequel? I'm passionate about this. But I was passionate about M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable {which starred Jackson as a comic book expert and Bruce Willis as a potential superhero]. Unbreakable was scheduled to be a trilogy. I would have loved to see that pan out. Why didn't it? We didn't make enough money. That's generally what happens. It was a successful film, but it wasn't Sixth Sense successful. Are you purging yourself of the bad boy Paladin image with this shaved head? It's how I live. I walk around like this all the time. All the hair is always bought and glued on. You've become an expert in a lot of alternative worlds... I've inhabited some strange places as an actor. But it's cool. That's part of the allure of the job — to be different people, be in different situations, negotiate them as realistically as you possibly can, and still come out unscathed on the other side. Have you always had an interest in science fiction? Was that always your heart and soul? I've always had that interest. From the time you read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and think, "Wow, this is great! I'd love to be able do that, sit on the bottom of the sea." It led to me being a marine biology major — because I was interested in inner space rather than outer space. But, yeah, science fiction has always been one of those things that fascinate me.

Are there any sci-fi stories you'd like to be a part of, or storylines you'd like to be in? There was this really interesting project [that] was going to be made by [Paul] Verhoeven or someone, and it was [about] cowboys, Indians and aliens. That concept was pretty cool. Or exploring whether or not there were aliens that helped the Egyptians build the pyramids. I've read that you're in the record book for making the most profitable films... That's the Guinness Book of World Records for making the most money in accumulative box office total. So you've worked with a lot of directors? No. It means I made three films that made a hell of a lot of money — called Star Wars. You've picked up a few little tricks from certain directors? You work with old-school directors that tell you interesting things. John Frankenheimer always said, "Sam, don't do anything you don't want to end up in the movie." Directors will always say, "This time, let's do it this way." But they said, "If you don't want to do that, don't do it — because the one thing you don't like, that you do for them, you can guarantee they'll put it in the movie." So now, I tend not to do that, when a director says, "Let's do it this way." I'm like, "No." What are you working on next? I'm doing a film called Soul Man with Bernie Mac. It's about two guys who are backup singers for a soul group. The guy who was the lead singer and left them 25 years before and became a huge star, dies, and they want them to perform at a memorial. My character has been in prison and Bernie's character owns a string of successful car washes. Do you need to have a different head for comedy? You still play characters honestly. I try not to impose humor on something that's not funny. People tend to think when you're doing comedy you have to make things funny. If it's not funny, it's not funny. What's the most circuitous project that you're glad finally got made? Eve's Bayou and Caveman's Valentine. Eve's Bayou is a good little film. You keep your hand in the good little films also? You have to... Is there anything you're reading at the moment? I read comic books all the time, so I'm constantly in that strange comic world. I'm reading "Black Summer" right now and another series called "The Boys." We just missed getting hold of that. And we're still working on the Afro Samurai game. That should be ready by October. Is it weird — almost science fictional — having your Madame Tussaud's figure standing out on West 42nd Street? Why are they putting mine outside all the time? I'm not sure if I'm not fit to be inside with the others. I know people like to stop and take photos with it. It's a very good likeness. I've had people call me and say they saw me in New York. I'm like, 'I'm not in New York.' They said, "Yeah, you're on 42nd Street, taking pictures with some people." Not me!

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: February 22, 2008.

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2008 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2008 Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2008 Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2008 Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.

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