Samuel L. Jackson on His Prolific Career and Becoming Martin Luther King, Jr. in ‘The Mountaintop’

When you think of Samuel L. Jackson, you probably think of the iconic actor’s many blockbuster films, like his roles in Quentin Tarantino‘s movies, his appearances in the Star Wars films, or his ongoing role of Nick Fury in the Marvel Comics superhero movies.  In fact, films that the prolific Jackson has appeared in (over 100!) have grossed nearly $10 billion at the domestic box office!

But like many successful actors, Jackson is thankful that his salary from his blockbuster films allows him to explore smaller, more challenging work like The Mountaintop, a Broadway play in which Jackson appears as Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jackson points to the play as an example of a project he wouldn’t have been able to take on if he hadn’t been in so many blockbuster films, saying, “I’ve been fortunate.  There’s a handful of movies that have made enormous amounts of money, and that just means that the other movies that I’d done have made the kind of money that allows me to continue to work, that people see me as viable as a box office draw to people. People come and see my movies.”

What separates The Mountaintop from other portrayals of King is that the play attempts to show King outside of the iconic civil rights leader that he has been celebrated as since his death.  Jackson reveals, “He’s not a perfect man in this play,” adding, “This is one of those kind of informative plays that allows [audiences] to see an icon as a human being; that, you know, talks to his wife same way they talk to their wives, and talks to their kids and cares about their kids; that actually, you know, goes to the bathroom. We look at people, you know. ‘Wow, I didn’t know he peed!’ Yeah, of course he does, you know?”  

Why does Jackson work so hard?  He claims his work ethic comes from his family background.  “I grew up in a working class family.  When I was a kid, all the adults in my house got up and went to work every day. I assumed that’s what grown people do. That’s what I do. I just happen to have a very interesting job that’s kind of cool!”  So what did the young Jackson want to do while growing up?  Certainly not act.  Jackson originally aspired to be a deep-sea diver!  He says, “I wanted to be the black Jacques Cousteau. I wanted to hang out underwater, look at fish and figure out a way to feed the world from the ocean.” But he changed his mind as soon as he walked into a play audition his junior year. “The night I showed up, all the girls, they were doing photos, and all the girls were sitting around in corsets and garter belts.”  With a laugh, he adds,  “Okay, this might be all right! And I got in the play and I’ve kind of been doing it ever since.”

In the long run though,  Jackson isn’t like most actors who claim they never watch their own movies. He explains, “I don’t understand how actors say, you know, ‘I can’t watch myself.’  If you can’t, why do you expect somebody to pay their money to watch you? If YOU can’t watch it, why should somebody else?” But there’s one problem — when it comes to The Mountaintop, he can’t watch himself!  He jokes, “I just always want to see the plays, but I wanted to see ’em with me in them. So, you know, movies are perfect for me. I’d still like to see THIS play with me in it.”

We agree — we’d see any play with you in it, so it’s a shame you can’t see yourself as we see you!

Via CBS News.  The Mountaintop is at the Bernard J. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway.

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