‘Where the f--- does he sleep?’: Samuel L. Jackson tries to bring logic to ‘Kong: Skull Island’
LOS ANGELES – An ocean away from the fictitious Kong: Skull Island, Samuel L. Jackson’s Oscar presence this year went almost unnoticed – which is pretty incredible in itself.
Jackson did the narration for I Am Not Your Negro, the Oscar-nominated documentary based on Remember This House, James Baldwin’s treatise on racism in America via stories about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers.
I’d been joking with Jackson about being famous for delivering lines with the volume set at “11” – a la Spinal Tap.
“Do you know most people don’t know it’s me narrating that movie until they see the credits?” he said.
“I used my voice in a way that’s almost unrecognizable. It wouldn’t have served the movie to perform my part at ‘11.’ It was a nuanced and interesting project, and I approached it that way.”
Is he aware that comedians do impressions of his voice?
“Yeah. I’ve heard them. Some of them are close.”
Are there any he likes?
Of course, the Samuel L. Jackson comedians mimic is the guy whose most famous film line might just be, “I have had it with these mother---ing snakes on this mother----ing plane!”
And that’s the one that co-stars with Tom Hiddleston in Kong: Skull Island, playing a Captain Ahab role as a U.S. Colonel fresh off Vietnam who devotes himself to avenging the death of his men at the hands of a skyscraper-sized ape on an uncharted island.
“That’s the sound of me having fun,” Jackson says of his “11” voice. “I’ve been preparing to use it my whole life. I’ve been running from or chasing King Kong, Godzilla the Wolfman, whatever, since I was a kid (in Chatanooga, Tenn.). We’d go home and pretend to do all that stuff.
“So I’m doing Kong for the same reason I’ll probably be doing The Blob. I just got a call the other day (where the producers) said they finally got their money from China to do Blob.
“I mean, I do a lot of movies, a lot of independent movies, for different reasons. But I’m a fan, and a lot of times I choose a movie because it’s something I would have chosen to see when I was a kid. How do you say no to that?”
The actor known to many as Marvel’s Nick Fury – and isn’t that name simply “on the nose?” – has some competition in the world of the tightly-wound roles these days. He got the role of Kong: Skull Island’s Col. Packard after J.K. Simmons turned it down. “He’s an interesting guy. J.K. is capable of all kinds of things. I think he would have been an interesting Col. Packard. But, hey. He didn’t want to do it. I don’t mind.”
Locations included Hawaii, where he got to golf (he’s getting his swing back after three knee surgeries - the limp he had in Tarzan was real. “It’s pretty much bone-on-bone at this point,” he says), and Australia’s Gold Coast, which he didn’t much like.
And then there was Vietnam, the northern end, with location shooting in, and in the jungle around, Hanoi.
“It’s an amazing place, kinda out there,” Jackson says. “You understand that if you’re an invading force you pretty much don’t have a shot. You’ve got to be an indigenous person and be one with that particular terrain and country and spirituality all around you, because you can feel it. It’s palpable.
“And we had military advisers that had been in the war. And we were in some places where if you walked two klicks you’d be in Laos. And then we had people that walk around and clear a field before you go into it because of unexploded ordinance.”
Jackson’s bark can have bite (check out the online video of him carving a new one for a TV interviewer who mistook him for Laurence Fishburne). And even a year post-filming, he is fairly frank about the off-screen war he sometimes fought with Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, an indie director working with a big budget for the first time. (The producers made the recent Godzilla reboot, and have indicated that their Kong is in the same universe and could conceivably fight the big lizard in some future film).
In fact, Jackson gets so worked up describing his frustration over not getting a clear answer on the size of the invisible Kong he was fighting, that his handlers briefly make the “end of interview” finger sign, which Jackson ignores.
“We’re fodder. The movie’s basically about the big ape and the big things with the teeth and scariness (there are other monsters on Skull Island that emerge from a subterranean world). If they do those well, then you have a successful movie. We could be doing Academy Award winning performances, but it’s not about that.
“So we’re constantly asking the question when we’re there, ‘How big is it? How fast is it? Where is it?’ And we got different answers. To be honest, (when I saw the movie) he’s way bigger than anybody ever told us he was.
“I’m one of those pragmatic people. So I say, ‘So, if he’s THAT big, where the f--- does he sleep on this island that we can’t see him? Or if he takes a s---, shouldn’t we be able to see it or smell it wherever we are on this island?”
So did he get along with Vogt-Roberts. “Next question!” says Jackson’s handler.
Jackson makes it clear he knows what side he’s on, and it’s with his co-stars. Actors tend to band together. I’ve known Tom (Hiddleston) for a long time, and Brie (Larson) and I got along immediately because she was in the midst of collecting every award on the planet (for Room). She’d, like, bounce out and go to an award show and come back. So we laughed at that. I also just worked with her on her directorial debut (Unicorn Store)
“Jason (Mitchell) and Corey (Hawkins) both worked on that Straight Outta Compton movie, and while we were shooting, he got that 24 job (the reboot series 24: Legacy), so we started calling him, ‘Black Bauer.’
“And I’ve known John (Goodman) and John C. (Reilly) for a while. John C. and I did Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movie (Hard Eight) years ago.
“Actors get along because we understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We were very concerned with the practicality of what we were doing. Even though people are there to watch the monsters, we still want them to look at the human beings.”
He’s still putting in indie-film time, but Jackson’s next big project after The Blob will be Avengers: Infinity War. He’s been advised that the “officially dead” S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury will be back.
“Nick Fury’s out there hunting Hydra, trying to find out who’s infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. As for when it starts, I don’t have a date, I have a proposition.”
Kong: Skull Island opens Friday, March 10.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON IN 10 LINES
1. “I have had it with these mother----ing snakes on this mother----ing plane!” (Snakes On A Plane)
2. “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you." (Jules in Pulp Fiction).
3. “AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every mother----er in the room, accept no substitutes.” (Ordell in Jackie Brown)
4. “You refer to the prophecy of The One who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it's this boy?” (Mace Windu in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. And guess what? It wasn’t)
5. “You wouldn't know Egyptian cotton if the Pharaoh himself sent it to you, you knockoff-wearing mother----er! (As John Shaft in the 2000 reboot of Shaft)
6. “So, what's it going to be, Triple X? You want to get on a plane, or is ‘Kiss my ass, Scarface’ your final answer?” (Augustus Gibbons in xXx).
7. “I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I've elected to ignore it.” (Nick Fury in The Avengers)
8. “Come out of there you bushwhacking sack shooter by the time I count to 3, or I will shoot this bitch in the face.” (Major Marquis Warren in The Hateful Eight)
9. “I can s--- on you from such a height, you'll think God himself took a crap on you.” (Officer Tenpenny in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
10. “I end up taking a road trip to the suburbs where I find my drunk-ass point guard on top of Daddy's little princess.” (Coach Carter in Coach Carter)