AS WE TOOK our seats in the Madinat Theatre over the weekend, many sat in the auditorium wondered which sort of Hollywood star would arrive on stage? Would it be the retiring introvert, the pensive navel-gazer or the diva-ish type whose contractual obligation to give a one-hour talk appears to be too much of burden on their precious time.
No, the person who welcomed us was of course the gifted and vivacious screen presence Samuel L. Jackson whose DIFF Lifeftime Achievement Award dictated he give a 60-minute career retrospective on Friday to the delight of the packed house. In short, the time flew by given the varied topics of conversation and Jackson's engaging style typified by the actor turning his flat cap backwards once he settled in and appeared to be enjoying himself.
Samuel L. Jackson receives the Lifetime Achievement award from Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. (Photo: Khaleej Times)
"I had no choice in the matter," Jackson began when asked to pinpoint why he chose a life in acting. Living with his performing arts teacher aunt who was in charge of her school's plays, a lack of male participation from the student body meant Jackson was often required to fill in. "But I do remember after doing it, having wanted to do it or not, I loved the sound of [clapping] and people coming up and telling me how great I was.
"It got to a point where at school I was told to stop and give somebody else a chance. They said I couldn't be in everything. Now that I am in Hollywood, I can be in everything. People tell me I'm in every movie."
It is a testament to Jackson's ability to inhabit a character with such conviction it is sometimes difficult to recall the countless pictures in which he has appeared. However, merely a quick perusal over his filmography, as well as nudging fond cinematic memories, does reinforce the notion Jackson has been one of the most consistently featured and admired actors of his generation. From the popular Django Unchained to the bizarre Snakes on a Plane; from the critically lauded A Time To Kill, to the unnerving Unbreakable, his chameleon-like qualities give Jackson licence to tackle just about any role that comes his way. Yet there are still further frontiers to conquer.
"I have never done a slasher movie, I want to do one of those," he said. "There are genres of films in other countries I like to watch. I tend to watch a lot of Asian films: Korean, Chinese and Japanese films, I'd love to work in that culture. I love Bollywood movies, I'd do a Bollywood movie!"
Although recent efforts have been made to address a lack of ethnic diversity in movies and on TV, Jackson first emerged in an era where no such consideration took place. Despite still encountering racism, he spoke of a producer on Pulp Fiction greeting him with "Mr. Fishburne needs no introduction", Jackson seems optimistic the balance will be redressed.
"There are so many platforms now for young people to tell their stories. So many platforms for young people of colour to tell their kinds of stories and.opportunities for the creators to populate them with their kind of people, not just the dominant culture."
Jackson used HBO crime series The Night Of as an example.
"You get to see some things that a Muslim family is going through that average Americas will say 'That's some black s***'
"They can sit down and see what another part of America is going through.
"Muslim Americans are getting arrested like black people are getting arrested. I've said it before but Muslim Americans are the new black Americans, they are treated like we are or have been in the past. They are suspect for the dominant culture because they perceive them as a threat.
"The Muslim community is a vital part of our country."
Lee and Tarantino
Arguably Jackson's greatest professional collaborations have been with two directors: Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. Movies including Jackson's breakout picture performance in Lee's Jungle Fever and the role which took his popularity to stratospheric levels in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction are iconic elements of cinema history.
"Even though I played a drug addict in Jungle Fever, it was the first time I performed sober," Jackson said about the part which won him a special award at Cannes. "I had been out of rehab two weeks. I learnt that I could do it without any substances and if I were to pick anything up again all those achievements could vanish.
"That's the film I can't run from," Jackson said about Pulp Fiction. "And I don't. I embrace it because at least once a day somebody will say, 'you know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France?' People go through their whole careers with people not remembering one line they said in a movie. I've been blessed. I gain somewhere between five to ten million new fans every year because kids become of age where their parents let them see it for the first time and think it's the coolest movie in the world. It's enduring that way."
"My agent won't let me answer that question." Jackson pointed out his feelings on Donald Trump's election victory with an almost presidential dodge. However, this deflection is perhaps a perfect example of how he views his role as an actor in the political process.
"My politics are my politics," he said. "I don't use my politics on screen.
I pick movies that are entertaining because I think we're entertainers. It's up to documentarians to chronicle our history. Those films serve another purpose.
"I don't mind telling a message or being in a message movie of sorts. But I think of myself as someone who gives people an opportunity to get them out of their lives for two hours."
Outside of the movie theatre, though, Jackson can be vocal.
"I am black, I have had my run ins with the police and walked away from all of them. They haven't all been pleasant.
"I'm from the segregated south. I lived through America's apartheid. There were places I couldn't go and things I couldn't do. They informed who I am, but they don't inform how I act.
"When things happen like what happened in the election I get it in a kind of way. I'm not confused or shocked by it. I lived there in another time and I understand who those people are who 'want to make America great again.'"
By David Light
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