Many people do not know that Samuel L. Jackson had significant substance abuse problems that derailed his acting career for many years before his 1990s breakthrough. In fact, if you look at pretty much any role Jackson had before the early 1990s you’ll notice that they all amounted to very little screen time — mainly because his addictions made him unreliable for more significant roles. It wasn’t until he went to rehab in 1991 that his career really took off. While on the UK television show This Morning, Jackson spoke about how his addictions affected his early career.
Jackson confesses, “I was doing a lot of drugs and doing a lot of drinking because I had a theatre teacher at university who said, ‘If you want to be one of the great ones, you have to learn how to handle your alcohol and do all these other things while you’re performing’ … and we took that to heart and we did it. So maybe when I went to auditions I smelt of alcohol and my eyes were a little red and I didn’t get specific jobs, but I continued to do what I was doing.”
Jackson’s first starring role was in Jungle Fever, in which he played a cocaine addict. He thinks that his years as an addict helped him in the role, explaining, “I hid it [the addiction] quite well, because everyone was quite shocked when I went into rehab … but amazingly enough when I did go to rehab the job came along that propelled me into Hollywood – Jungle Fever – and it was almost a carbon copy of what I’d been doing with my life anyway, so I’d done the research.”