Through his many years in the business, Samuel L. Jackson has become one of the most popular actors in Hollywood, with a unique style, recognisable voice and a catchphrase that can’t be mentioned before the watershed. Jackson has to date appeared in more than 100 productions, including such classics as Coming to America, Jurassic Park and, of course, Pulp Fiction, the film that cemented his place as a Hollywood star.
It’s now more than a quarter of a century since Jackson turned heads in Tarantino’s masterpiece playing Jules Winnfield, so what better time to look at some facts about Jackson that you may not have known?
20. He was raised by his grandparents
Samuel L. Jackson was born in Washington and was raised by both his grandparents until he went away to college.
Jackson’s mother lived nearby, but only visited him during Christmas and the summer holidays, and only until Jackson was nine.
As for Jackson’s father, he wasn’t around much, to the point where Jackson claims to have met him fewer than three times.
Jackson’s father died as a result of his alcoholism, something that Jackson himself would go on to struggle with later in his life.
Despite his upbringing, Samuel L. Jackson has never expressed resentment towards his parents in interviews.
Instead, he has used interview opportunities to praise his grandparents, saying: “They inspired me to get up and go to work every day. They were loving, stern and God-fearing.”
19. His performance in Jungle Fever was so good an award was created especially for it
Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever was released in 1991, three years before Samuel L. Jackson’s fame skyrocketed as a result of his appearing in Pulp Fiction.
Despite the movie being released before his big break, however, Jackson’s performance as Gator Purify was still singled out by critics the world over.
In fact, Jackson’s performance was so moving and nuanced that many awards bodies wanted to credit him for it.
When the Cannes Film Festival decided they wanted to pay tribute to Jackson’s work on the film, they created a special Supporting Actor prize that year just for him.
Cannes had never given out an award like that before, but Jackson’s performance in Jungle Fever was just that good.
Nowadays, Jackson’s contribution to Jungle Fever is often lost in the shuffle of his parts in much more well-known movies, but it’s well worth returning to this early classic.
18. He landed his Star Wars role because George Lucas happened to watch Jackson lobbying for it on a UK talk show
When he appeared on TFI Friday in 1996, Samuel L. Jackson admitted that he was a huge Star Wars fan, and that he’d love to work with George Lucas.
Amazingly, Lucas saw this and was flattered, and Jackson was offered the role of Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels as a result.
Jackson was such a fan of the Star Wars franchise that even once he knew he was cast, he said he didn’t care what part he was playing.
As a result, Jackson didn’t know he was playing Mace Windu in The Phantom Menance until he was at a costume fitting for the role.
The only request related to the movie that Jackson made was to have a purple lightsaber so that he could stand out in the battle scenes.
Jackson’s reasoning was that the only other black actor to receive such high billing was Jar Jar Binks, and Jackson wanted to ensure he wasn’t lost in the shuffle.
17. Jackson’s wife is his toughest critic, once calling his performances “bloodless”
Samuel L. Jackson met his wife LaTanya Richardson in 1974 while they were both attending separate but nearby colleges.
They began dating immediately and got married in 1980, and the two have been together ever since.
With that said, even though the two obviously love each other deeply, LaTanya Richardson Jackson has never been afraid to tell her husband the truth.
Especially when it comes to Jackson’s acting, Samuel L’s wife has always been 100% honest, even if it means her comments are not kind.
Specifically, Jackson’s wife used to say that while Jackson was very talented, his performances were always “bloodless”.
Samuel L. Jackson claimed not to understand the critique until he got sober, when he both began to understand what his wife was saying and to improve his craft even more.
16. Jackson loves watching his performances so much he pays to see his own movies
Many actors hate watching their own work, and find premieres or screenings where they have to sit through their own performances complete torture.
Even beyond that, most actors aren’t crazy about watching back their own films multiple times, and will avoid it when they can.
In that respect, Samuel L. Jackson is not like most actors, since he actually loves watching his own performances back.
Jackson has even gone so far as to buy tickets to showings of films he’s in, when watching himself at the premiere just wasn’t enough.
In fact, Jackson has said that his biggest annoyance is that there’s no way for him to watch himself in plays.
He once elaborated on his opinion in an interview, saying: “Even during my theatre years, I wished I could watch the plays I was in – while I was in them! I dig watching myself work.”
15. He shaved his head for a role… and then never got the chance to grow his hair back
Samuel Jackson’s look has included his iconic bald head for decades now, so much so that it’s unusual to see him play characters with hair in such recent films as Unicorn Store.
Jackson has insisted that he wasn’t going bald when he made the choice to shave his head, though, and instead just has never had time to grow it back between jobs.
When Jackson first made the decision to chop off his hair, he appeared on The Tonight Show with his fresh new look.
Both the audience and host were shocked, but Jackson explained that it was just for a role, and he would grow his hair back soon.
Of course, that never happened, thanks in part to the many MCU films that required him to keep his bald head.
Who knows? Maybe after Nick Fury’s exit from the MCU, Samuel L. Jackson will go back to a life of long, luscious hair.
14. He called Leonardo DiCaprio a “motherf****r” to help him overcome his nerves on Django Unchained
2012’s Django Unchained is one of the most acclaimed films that Samuel L. Jackson has ever been involved with.
The movie bagged an Oscar win for Christoph Waltz in the category of Best Supporting Actor, and another win for Quentin Tarantino for Best Original Screenplay.
Jackson was invaluable on set, both because of his own acting work and for the encouragement he gave to Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio struggled during filming on Django to embody such a horrible and vicious character as Calvin Candie, and felt uncomfortable using all the slurs and insults that were necessary for the part.
Speaking about his part later on, DiCaprio said: “I mean, there was absolutely nothing about this man I could identify with. I hated him and it was one of the most narcissistic, racist characters I’ve ever read in my entire life.”
Jackson got DiCaprio back on track with one simple sentence: “Hey mother*****r, this is another Tuesday for us, let’s go!”
13. He worked hard to stay in school because he was so terrified of being drafted
As a young man, Samuel L. Jackson grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam War, which was still going on when he was old enough to be drafted.
As a result, Jackson grew up terrified of being taken overseas with the draft, and was almost sure that it would happen to him.
As a result, Jackson tried extra hard in school, believing that if his grades dropped they would be used as an excuse to send him off to war.
Jackson also had a low number in the draft lottery, which only added to his fears of having to put his life on hold.
Speaking about his experiences at that time, Samuel L. Jackson said: “I pretty much had to stay in school.”
“Either I make good grades in school or I’m getting shipped off to Vietnam, which made it very real to me indeed when I was 19.”
12. Jackson’s movie contracts stipulate productions have to make time for him to go golfing
Samuel L. Jackson is a very keen golfer and has been for years, and sources say he has a handicap of 6.9.
Jackson is such a passionate golfer that he even has it written into his movie contracts that he should be allowed to go golfing during production on a film.
According to Jackson, his golfing demands are usually granted, and the film producers both allow him time to play and organise a space for him to do so.
Talking about the arrangement, Jackson said in an interview: “Generally, they either move me onto a golf course so I can play or join a club so I can play, and they have to let me play at least twice a week.”
Jackson’s hobby has resulted in a lot of delightful paparazzi photos, of Jackson in brilliantly loud golfing outfits.
Unfortunately, no paps managed to snap Jackson taking a break on the set of Avengers: Endgame and golfing with an eyepatch on.
11. His films have made $13 billion in total – making him Hollywood’s number one most bankable star
With over 120 movies and $13 billion at the box office, Samuel L. Jackson is Hollywood’s most bankable star.
Jackson has appeared in several major franchises, including Star Wars, Die Hard, Jurassic Park and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which goes some towards explaining why he is so profitable.
A study published in Applied Network Science in December of 2018 used an algorithm to measure the influence of various actors on pop culture, which Samuel L. Jackson came out on top of.
Box Office Mojo then did their own calculation, looking primarily at box office numbers, and awarded the top spot to Jackson also.
The actor to come in (an admittedly distant) second was Harrison Ford, who has earned $4.96 billion at the box office, largely thanks to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.
The third-place position went to Tom Hanks, whose movie empire includes Forrest Gump and the Toy Story movies, with Tom Hanks’ box office earnings equalling $6 billion.
10. He didn’t get his big break until he was 45
As we’ve already discussed, Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most influential actors in the world, and has been for some time.
However, considering that he graduated with a degree in drama from college, and moved to New York to pursue acting not long after, it took him quite a while to break into the mainstream.
By the time Samuel L. Jackson starred in the smash hit Pulp Fiction, he was already 45 years old.
At that point in his career, Jackson was an experienced and even veteran actor, but he wasn’t exactly a household name.
The fact that Jackson wasn’t super established at the time makes it even more surprising that Tarantino wrote the part of Jules Winnfield specifically for Jackson.
Jackson was overwhelmed to know the part had been written for him, saying: “To know that somebody had written something like Jules for me. I was overwhelmed, thankful, arrogant – this whole combination of things that you could be, knowing that somebody’s going to give you an opportunity like that.”
9. He was an usher at Martin Luther King’s funeral
Jackson spent his younger years as a dedicated activist for black rights, thanks in part to having to attend a segregated school growing up.
In 1968, he even attended the funeral of Martin Luther King and worked as an usher, before flying to Memphis to join the equal rights protest march.
In 1969, Jackson and his classmates held members of the Morehouse College board of trustees hostage on their college campus.
The aim was to force the college to change its policies, in order to allow for a black studies course and more equal governance.
Although the college agreed to change its policies, Jackson was convicted of unlawful confinement, which is a second-degree felony, and was suspended for two years.
Jackson initially wanted to dedicate his life to activism, but was forced to move away from his home to Los Angeles after the FBI contacted his mother and warned him that his involvement with the Black Power movement could prove fatal.
8. He had a major stutter as a youngster – which he got over by cursing
Samuel L. Jackson comes across as a hugely confident person, with effortless charisma and people skills to spare.
However, he wasn’t always such a good communicator, since as a child he had to battle a serious stutter.
The story of how Samuel L. Jackson mastered his stutter varies, with some saying his speech therapist encouraged him to audition for a play.
However, others have said that it wasn’t acting that helped Samuel L. Jackson get over his stutter, but cursing.
That’s right: Samuel L. Jackson apparently got mastery over his stutter by repeating ‘mother*****r’ over and over again.
Practise makes perfect, so it makes sense that now Samuel L. Jackson is a pretty talented and prolific curser.
7. He worked menial jobs for decades while he waited for a breakout role
While Samuel L was working as a struggling actor in New York, he went through various professions.
Jackson worked as a doorman for a set of subsidised apartments and also spent time working as a social worker.
Originally though, Samuel L. Jackson didn’t want to become an actor at all, and instead wanted to become a marine biologist.
With that said, if his performance in Deep Blue Sea is anything to go by, then he probably would have been eaten by a shark had he continued down that career path.
Jackson has also said that while working in New York as an actor he wasn’t being paid very much, but he kept being asked to work on projects thanks to his professionalism.
This was very important to Jackson at the time, as he was struggling with substance abuse and took pride in being able to continue working.
6. He used to be Bill Cosby’s camera stand-in
While Jackson was struggling to build a portfolio as an actor, he took on some pretty strange jobs.
One was as a camera stand-in for Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show, standing in for the star, who would later go on to extreme controversy.
The connection between Jackson and Cosby meant that when allegations surfaced about Cosby in 2015, Jackson was approached to respond.
Jackson did an interview discussing the accusations towards Cosby, saying very simply: “I wish that he would say something.”
Jackson expanded on his views of the situation by saying: “I mean, I can’t make a judgment about it. I mean, I make my judgments because I have a daughter, I have a wife that I love.
“I have a lot of women in my life, and I know, you know, women are vulnerable in this society. And people with power take advantage of people.”
5. He seriously struggled with drugs before he was famous
Moving to New York was one of the best things Samuel L. Jackson ever did, since it allowed him to act in plays and get his career off the ground.
Unfortunately, moving to New York to pursue acting full time proved a difficult transition for Jackson, which led him to developing a dependence on drugs for a period.
As a result of his dependence, two plays that Jackson had acted in, The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running, recast him when they made the jump to Broadway.
This only made Jackson’s substance problems worse, and his dependence worsened until he was found unconscious by his daughter in 1991.
Jackson then played an addict in Jungle Fever, against the advice of his rehabilitation centre, who were worried that being around even prop paraphernalia would cause him to relapse.
Jackson responded by saying: “I will not pick up again for no other reason than I do not ever want to see you in my life again.”
4. He called rappers-turned-actors ‘aberrations’
Samuel L. Jackson has been acting for decades, and he’s earned the right to have some strong opinions about the acting world.
Maybe the strongest opinion about acting Jackson has, is that he strongly disapproves of rappers appearing in movies.
Speaking about his dislike of rappers getting roles in films, Jackson said: ”To take people from the music world and give them the same kind of credibility and weight that you give me, Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker – that’s like an aberration to me; you just can’t do that,”
Jackson went on to say: “I know there’s some young actor sitting in New York or in L.A. who’s spent half of his life learning how to act and sacrificing to learn his craft but isn’t going to get his opportunity … because of some actor who’s been created – and you can use the word ‘actor’ loosely,”
Despite his dislike of rappers-turned-actors, Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in several movies where rappers have played supporting roles.
Jackson appeared in Sphere with Queen Latifah, Deep Blue Sea with LL Cool J, Shaft with Busta Rhymes and XXX: State of the Union with Ice Cube.
3. He starred in both his highest-rated and lowest-rated film in 2004
Samuel L. Jackson has starred in a number of critically acclaimed films, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t also acted in his fair share of stumbles.
Weirdly enough, Jackson experienced both the highs and lows of his career in 2004, starring in both the highest and lowest-rated projects of his life.
The high point of his career came when he starred in Disney Pixar’s The Incredibles, voicing the beloved superhero Frozone.
The Incredibles has a rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest-rated movie of Jackson’s career.
Unfortunately, Samuel L. Jackson also starred in Twisted in that year, which has a much less promising 2% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Twisted is a psychological thriller which was forgotten almost immediately after it came out, which is probably for the best.
2. He has a secret obsession with Helen Mirren
Samuel L. Jackson has been married to his wife LaTanya Richardson Jackson ever since 1980, making their marriage 40 years old this year.
The pair seem to have the most perfect relationship, though Jackson has been pretty open about his celebrity crushes in the past.
In particular, Jackson has confessed to having the hots for Helen Mirren, calling her his “secret crush” in an interview with The Independent.
In the interview, Jackson also outlined an idea for his absolute dream movie, which also included Helen Mirren.
Describing the film he someday dreams of making, Jackson said: “A beautifully exotic location, a really tense and dramatic story. Me, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, directed by William Friedkin.”
Who knows if such a project will ever see the light of day, but we would definitely go see it if it did.
1. The comic book Nick Fury was actually based on Jackson’s likeness
When Samuel L. Jackson was originally cast as Nick Fury, there was some pushback from fans who didn’t understand the casting.
Some took issue with the character apparently changing race, pointing to the portrayal of the character in Nick Fury: Agents of Shield, which was released in 1998 and starred David Hasselhoff in the title role.
What’s ironic about those complaints, is that by the time Samuel L. Jackson was cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Nick Fury, the Nick Fury of the comics had looked just like Jackson for a long time.
Even better, the similarity wasn’t incidental, as the version of Nick Fury seen in the Marvel Ultimate comics was based on Jackson’s likeness in the first place.
The creator of this version of Fury, Mark Millar, even apologised to Samuel L. Jackson for stealing his likeness, since Jackson knew exactly what Millar had done. Jackson responded in good humour, saying: “No, man! Thanks for the nine-picture deal!”