When we headed out to Los Angeles to interview Samuel L Jackson for the May/June edition of Gentleman’s Journal, little did we know that we would return with a completely different outlook on life.
You may imagine Jackson to act like a boisterous uncle, or a wise and seasoned godfather. But he’s more like the coolest and most interesting older brother imaginable. He’s been there, done that, and he’s here to tell you it’ll be just fine.
So here are the rules for living the iconic actor shared with us. You may not ever be like him, not even close, but they just might make you a better man…
1. "Whatever you do, be a mechanic"
“I don’t care what your job is, you need to understand the intricacies. You need to know how the mechanics of the thing works,” “Say you want to be an actor, well, then you need to learn the mechanics of the theatre: upstage, downstage, stage right, stage left, counter-cross. Everything is a valuable lesson on that stage.” he says, and laughs. “I’m always looking for an audience. Now, the more people watching me, the better I am. That’s the damn mechanics.”
2. "There's no time to be humble"
“I wish that I could watch the plays I was in while I was in them” Jackson said to TIME magazine back in 2006. “I dig watching myself work.” Does Jackson buy that stance? “Listen, if you want to be good, really good, there’s no time to be humble. You don’t have to put it right in people’s faces. But if you can’t stand to watch yourself work then why should people pay $12.50 to watch you work?”
3. "You make your own luck"
“By the time my turn came, in the eighties, I had been acting on stage for years. “I trusted in my preparation, and I trusted in my luck.” One day, as a student at Morehouse College (where he was studying to be a marine biologist), a public speaking professor saw Jackson stand up and speak, and asked him if he wanted to try his hand at some acting. “Mr. Guthrie.” Jackson smiles. “He was doing a production of the Threepenny Opera, and he needed guys. “I think people often overlook those little fringe opportunities. What I mean is — you make your own luck”
4. "As soon as you have a Plan B, Plan A is f****d"
“Once I figured out that was where I belonged and what made me want to get up every day, I was committed to it.” says Jackson. “As soon as you have a plan B, plan A is fucked!’ So I never did plan B. Even when I got to New York and I wasn’t acting, I built sets, I hung lightning, I’d do stuff that I’d learned to do in the theatre. So when I said I had an audition to go to, they’d understand and say ‘good luck, hurry back’, not ‘who’s going to wait my tables for me?’” he says. “I never waited those damn tables.”
5. "Get out of your own way"
“I was a drug addict for a lot of the 1980s” Jackson says. “And I was doing some of the biggest plays at the height of my addiction. But I would still work every day.” “The majority of the people had no idea that I was smoking cocaine because I went to rehearsal that way everyday, so when I got to the theatre at night, I was just the same guy.”
“One day, the light went on. And then I finally figured out I was the person that was in my way. It was suddenly obvious.” One week after leaving rehab, Jackson was cast in his first major film role — as a crack addict in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. Jackson smiles at the irony. “I didn’t have to write up any backstory for Gator. I’d lived it.”
6. "Take a damn stance"
“When I was at college we were ready for the uprising, ready for the revolution, but now, young people are truly afraid for their future, mainly because they’re being put in a place that they can’t navigate and survive in” he says. “My advice is to take a damn stance,” he says. “Keep going. Don’t shut up, raise your voice.” “The advantage these kids have over us, when we were in the streets is were were on payphones or writing letters to each other. They’ve got something we didn’t have. They’ve got the Internet, they’ve got a voice”
7. "Life's a golf course, so start swinging"
“Golf is a game of personal accomplishment. Just a little ball sitting there waiting for you to move it in a specific direction” Jackson told James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio. “If you do it successfully you get all the credit. If you don’t, you get all the blame. And it takes concentration and relaxation to be good at it”
“When you’re about to go perform, whatever you do, you’ve got to know the yardage, know which club you need, understand the feeling.” This preparedness comes from the hours and hours of quiet practice away from the limelight; days and weeks and months of unrewarding and repetitive work that no-one will ever see. “But you’ll know it’s there” Jackson says. “And you’ll need it.”
8. "You've never made it"
Even now — as the highest grossing movie star of all time and as a towering institution unto himself — Samuel L. Jackson is worried that this wild ride might come spluttering to an end.
“My biggest fear is not going to work. I’m still that actor,” Jackson says. “I mean, I tell myself that the phone stops ringing for everybody, doesn’t it? “A painter will get up and paint. A writer’s gonna write. I’m Samuel L. Jackson” he says, spreading his arms wide and smiling. “I’m gon’ act!”
Read the full interview in the May/June issue of Gentleman’s Journal. Subscribe here…