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Beverly Hills, Ca. - He jumps from movie set to movie set like he’s the one writing the checks for each production. Unlike most actors in the business, Samuel Leroy Jackson seems to always have a gig. Literally, he doesn’t know the meaning of the word relax unless he manages to find a golf course, but even then it’s somewhere near the film’s production office. There’s a reason his colleagues very affectionately call him “the hardest working actor in Hollywood.”
“This is my passion,” says Jackson who shockingly turns 60 later this year. “It’s a job I love. Why wouldn’t I get up everyday and go and do it. When I grew up the adults in my house got up and went to work everyday and I think that’s what grown people do they go to work.”
That strong work ethic mixed with his undeniable talent earned Jackson another noteworthy title in Hollywood - his movies have grossed more than $3 billion at the box office - that’s more money any other actor in cinematic history. surpassed Harrison Ford for the honor.
Working hard is really not a new thing for Jackson. After graduating from Morehouse University, he worked in and around theatres for next to nothing. “This is what I did as a youngster when I was in New York working off off, off, off, off Broadway and all I got paid was basically train fare to do it. I even built sets just so I could be close to the theatre.”
All that hard work finally paid off. Today, the Oscar-nominated actor is one of Hollywood’s most sought after actors. Jackson has starred in more than 80 films and that’s remarkable when you consider he got a late start in the biz.
In 1991, Jackson made movie history with his portrayal of a crack addict in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever when he was awarded the first and only Best Supporting Actor Award ever given by the judges at the Cannes Film Festival. He also won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor for that performance.
His portrayal of Jules, the philosophizing hit man, in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 Pulp Fiction brought him unanimous critical acclaim, as well as Academy Award® and Golden Globe nominations. After that, it was on and cracking and Jackson has never had to look back.
In theatres now, the King of Cool’s latest movie, “Resurrecting the Champ.” In it, the Hollywood heavyweight pulls off the ultimate heist while befriending co-star Josh Hartnett.
Hartnett plays Erik, an up-and-coming sports reporter who rescues a homeless man called “Champ,” portrayed by Jackson. Erik discovers that Champ is, in fact, a boxing legend believed to have passed away. What begins as an opportunity for him to resurrect Champ’s story and escape the shadow of his father’s success, becomes a personal journey for both men as they reexamine their own lives and relationships with their family.
“He isn’t no bum, he’s just homeless,” says Jackson of his character Champ. “At one point he was like the number three contending heavyweight in the world and that’s a big place to be. There were some bad cats during the time when he was fighting. He was in a very lofty place and ended up in a very low place. That’s a rich kind of journey.”
Jackson brings his own personal style to the “down and almost halfway out” boxer. “This guy is a fallen hero of sorts, a man who wants so much to be somebody else that he winds up being nobody,” observes Jackson. “We see people like him everyday and most of the time we ignore him, but these people just don’t pop up on the sidewalk. They got there someway and they’re usually some very interesting stories.”
After reading the script, Jackson and his personal team went to work. His makeup artist Alan and his stylist, the Oscar-nominated Robert L. Stevenson, created the character you see on screen. The three men have worked together for years and combined they’re one mean movie-making machine. The trio can create a character that truly connects with an audience.
“We all started deciding what we wanted Champ to look like and by the time they finished with the look, we then had to convince them that it was okay for me to look that way. It was kind of awesome to wake up the first time and look at it and go alright great.”
As for Champ’s shuffle, again Sam Jackson added his own style to the character. “I wanted it to seem like Champ was always working out and on the road so he had this kind of jogging all the time” gait.
However, the voice was real personal. “It was actually my grandfather’s voice toward the end of his life,” says Jackson. “He would have conversations with him and he had that little voice and it kind of made people lean toward him and listen to him by using that kind of voice, and that’s the voice I wanted Champ to have.”
It’s his deep involvement in every aspect of every role that those close to him believe has catapulted Jackson into superstar status in Hollywood. He has studied his craft and he seems to know what works and what doesn’t in the movie biz. His co-stars including Josh Hartnett also realize when Samuel L. steps onto the set, he not only knows his lines, but theirs too!
Another case in point, when New Line Cinema executives were battling over the title of their new snake movie last year, Jackson very astutely advised them, “Call it what it is: “Snakes on a Plane - that’s what will get people interested in the movie,” Jackson recalls. Sure enough, it worked.
He truly could run a movie studio, direct a film AND headline the project, but Jackson says he prefers to do what he loves - acting. As for why he works on more films than any other actor in Hollywood, Jackson says the answer is real simple. “I want to create characters. I want to tell stories and I want to do it as often as I can. There’s only a limited number of acting opportunities in a lifetime. I want to make sure I got all of mine in.”