Who Is Samuel L. Jackson?
Samuel L. Jackson graduated from Morehouse College in 1972 and began his acting career on stage. A move to New York City led to a friendship with Spike Lee and some of his first movie gigs before he enjoyed a star-making turn with a commanding performance in Pulp Fiction. Jackson became a ubiquitous presence on the big screen, appearing in big-budget films like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and its sequels, and the numerous installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2011, he was named the highest-grossing actor of all time with more than $7.2 billion in wealth.
Jackson was born on December 21, 1948, in Washington, D.C., and was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, under his grandmother's strict guidance. His mother, Elizabeth, joined them when he was 10. An early film enthusiast, Jackson frequently saw films at the local theater and gained exposure to the complicated messages surrounding the Black presence on screen. Versions of Band of Angels were edited for the Black audience in Chattanooga, omitting a scene in which Sidney Poitier slaps a white woman.
Jackson's early memories remained with him when he entered the historically Black Morehouse College in Atlanta and became increasingly involved in the Black-power movement. In 1969, during his junior year, he protested the absence of Black people on the board of trustees by locking several board members in a building for two days and was promptly expelled from the college.
That same year, Jackson watched a performance by the Negro Ensemble Company and gained a new inspiration — acting. After working as a social worker for two years in Los Angeles, Jackson returned to Morehouse to pursue the study of acting and received his degree in 1972.
Early Stage Career
After college, Jackson joined the Black Image Theatre Company with his future wife, LaTanya Richardson, whom he met at Morehouse's sister school, Spelman College. They toured the country and performed skits characterized by a fiery combination of rage and humor to primarily white audiences.
In 1976, having exhausted their enthusiasm for politically charged theater, Jackson moved with Richardson to Harlem, New York City, to pursue an acting career outside such strictly defined perimeters of race. He began to act in Off-Broadway productions, including Richard Wesley's The Mighty Gents, an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Samm-Art Williams's Home. He also got a job substituting for Bill Cosby during The Cosby Show rehearsals.
Collaborations with Spike Lee
In 1981, while working on Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play, Jackson had two life-changing encounters: He met fellow actor Morgan Freeman, who became a great friend and convinced Jackson that he could be a successful actor and a New York University film student named Spike Lee, who expressed his enthusiasm for Jackson's performances and urged him to appear in the films he planned to make. Jackson consented and kept his word, appearing in several of Lee's early films including School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and Mo' Better Blues.
The friendship duly paid off for Jackson, as it was his role as the drug-addicted Gator in Lee's Jungle Fever that finally grabbed critics' attention and inspired some well-earned praise. Judges at the Cannes Film Festival created a Best Supporting Actor category in order to give Jackson the prize. He also received a New York Film Critics award. Through playing an on-screen drug-demon, Jackson was forced to confront his own off-screen demon — an increasingly destructive addiction to drugs and alcohol. The cathartic nature of his performance enabled Jackson to give up drugs, making it both a personal and professional success.
Jackson continued to take small parts in films such as Juice and True Romance, and he played an FBI agent in the thriller White Sands, exhibiting his impressive range and ability to add a quirky twist to every character. He overcame two Hollywood flops, National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon I and Amos & Andrew, by making small but affecting performances in Menace II Society and Patriot Games, and also enjoyed a prominent supporting part in the blockbuster Jurassic Park.
Breakout Role in 'Pulp Fiction'
In 1994, after establishing a reputation as one of Hollywood's hardest-working actors, Jackson got a chance to play the pivotal role of his career in Quentin Tarantino's instant cult classic, Pulp Fiction. Working from any actor's dream script, Jackson played Jules Winnfield, a sermon-spewing killer with eruptive speeches up to five pages long. He moved and terrified audiences with his impassioned performance, becoming the elusive moral center of the psychologically twisted film. He received an Academy Award nomination for the role.
Films: 'A Time to Kill,' 'Star Wars,' 'Snakes on a Plane'
Jackson went on to make several big Hollywood films, including John Grisham's A Time to Kill and the action-thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight, but he continued to participate in independent endeavors, such as Steve Buscemi's Trees Lounge. He also made a much-desired return to the stage in 1993 with Distant Fires, telling Premiere magazine, "I always want to get back to theater to make sure that I'm still an actor."
In 1999, Jackson appeared in the shark thriller Deep Blue Sea and as Jedi knight Mace Windu in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a role he reprised for Attack of the Clones in 2002 and Revenge of the Sith in 2005.
The year 2000 was a busy one for the popular actor, who starred with Tommy Lee Jones in the military thriller Rules of Engagement and in the remake of the classic 1970s blaxploitation hit Shaft. He also teamed with Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, a supernatural thriller written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
After starring opposite Ben Affleck in 2002's Changing Lanes, Jackson tackled the title role of the biopic Coach Carter in 2005. The following year Jackson starred in Black Snake Moan and the cult classic Snakes on a Plane, and in 2008 he rejoined his Phantom Menace colleague Hayden Christensen in Jumper.
To add to his many successes, The Guinness Book of World Records named Jackson the highest-grossing movie actor of all time in 2011. The majority of Jackson's estimated $7.2 billion in wealth came from his big franchise films Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction and Star Wars.
Marvel's Nick Fury
At the time he was named the highest-grossing film actor, Jackson was just beginning his run as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After appearing during the end credits of 2008's Iron Man, his character returned for the 2010 sequel and in subsequent films to introduce other Marvel superheroes, including Thor (2011); Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and The Winter Soldier (2014); The Avengers (2012), Age of Ultron (2015), Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019); and Captain Marvel (2019). Additionally, Jackson has appeared as Fury in the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Later Films: 'Django Unchained,' 'The Hateful Eight' and 'Glass'
Along with his lucrative work for Marvel, Jackson reunited with Tarantino for Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015), and with Lee for Chi-Raq (2015). He assumed a patented military commander-type role for Kong: Skull Island (2017), and revisited two of his older characters in 2019 with the Unbreakable sequel Glass and a new version of Shaft.
Jackson also took on a different role in 2019 by serving as the first celebrity voice of Amazon's virtual assistant, Alexa, with consumers having the option of receiving "explicit or non-explicit" answers to their questions.
The veteran actor opened 2020 on a strong note with the theatrical release of the well-received war drama The Last Full Measure, which featured Peter Fonda in his final role, before joining MCU colleague Anthony Mackie in the biopic The Banker.
Jackson and Richardson married in 1980, and they currently reside in California. They have one child together, a daughter named Zoe. When a reporter asked why his wife stayed with him during his wilder years, he replied, "She always says to me that I have now grown into the man that she always knew I could be."
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