His starring roles have grossed over $2.6 billion, he’s one of Hollywood’s coolest action men, and one of his more recent films spawned the most viral movie quote in decades. So what is Samuel L. Jackson doing outside O’Reilly Hall on a furiously cold Saturday night? Conor Barry finds out
When a Hollywood King of Cool of the calibre of Samuel L. Jackson is describing to you what he’s been up to over the weekend, it’s not unreasonable to expect the conversation to go a certain way. Partying until the early morning? Hijacking a golf buggy and driving it down the M50? All definite possibilities, one might suspect. Well, as it transpires, not so. “I’ve been sleeping a lot,” he cheerfully suggests, a tone of inquisition in his voice, as if to say, ‘Is this what you were expecting?’
The difference between the public Samuel L. Jackson and the real life Sam Jackson is – seemingly – pretty vast. For a man renowned for lines such as “I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane” and “I’m the foot fucking master”, witnessing Samuel L. Jackson speak gently about making his own personal contribution to help the lives of Irish children with autism is an experience bordering on the surreal and the downright strange. Dressed in an impressive-looking tuxedo and managing to make his thick-framed, round, Harry Potter-style glasses actually look cool, Jackson speaks about why he uses his status to help the particular cause he has chosen.
“We do our best to create awareness, to give something back to all the people that support us and this is one of the ways we can do that,” he says. “You know, by supporting charities, supporting children that need our help. We spent a lot of our energies going to underdeveloped countries, and we kind of forget that there are people close by who need our help also.”
The ‘we’ that Jackson refers to is his own charity organisation, called (predictably) the Samuel L. Jackson foundation. Despite the profile inherently attached to the organisation by virtue of its A-list name, it is difficult to pin down what specifically the Foundation does – with its actions varying between donating money to educational foundations, Aids initiatives, orphanages and other worthy causes around the world as they come up.
Last Saturday, 13th February, saw the Foundation providing for yet another cause, as UCD hosted the ‘Night of Love’ in the O’Reilly Hall – a red carpet, glitz-‘n’-glamour night of Irish celebrities and top class entertainment in association with Irish Autism Action. The night was a matter very close to the heart of co-organiser and co-host Keith Duffy, who has been involved with the latter charity since his own daughter, Mia, was born with autism nine years ago.
“What’s special about tonight is obviously we have a global superstar, Samuel L. Jackson, flying into Ireland to host the event,” Duffy says, outside the venue questionably described as ‘magnificent’ by the event’s publicity handlers. “Why it’s important to me is it’s not only about fundraising, it’s not only about making money and providing services. It’s also about awareness. It’s about helping people understand what autism is. There’s a huge ignorance out there and people don’t really know what autism is. So it’s trying to get that message across, and trying to educate people on this disability – and let people know that there are ways of helping these children, educating these children, and helping these children reach their true potential in life. And, unfortunately, that’s not provided through the state so we have to provide it ourselves. But the more noise we make, the more awareness we get.”
Jackson himself seemed to be in a similar vein about the issue. How did he become involved with the event – and how did he become aware of the work of Irish Autism Action? “I’d been doing events in Europe,” he says deeply, looking over the rims of his perfectly circular spectacles. “My European publicity person has been trying to put me together with different people in Europe to sponsor events. We started looking around for different charities in the country, and she discovered the Irish Autism Action. I have some friends in America who have a big autism society and they have an autistic child also. And having been around him and watching him grow, and watch it blossom because of all the work that they did – well, that was one of the things that made me say, ‘Well, that’s a wonderful thing that we should attach ourselves to’ – maybe bring those two charities together. Hopefully through my foundation, and their foundation, I’ll be able to spread the word to some other people in America – maybe be able to cross hands over this pond, and do some really good things for autism.”
Of course, when Jackson’s not doing his bit to help effect change within the wider world, he has been known to star in the odd film. So is Jackson conscious of his prolific cool guy image? “About four more years and I’ll be too old for it. We’ll see what happens.” This seems openly debatable: considering the man is already 61 years of age and seems to be looking better – and cooler – than ever, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever be able to shake off his public persona.
It’s this badass image that has shaped Jackson’s career, skyrocketing him to become one of the highest grossing film stars since his breakthrough performance in Pulp Fiction in 1994. Interestingly, Jackson has become renowned for actually enjoying watching his own films, his methodology for choosing his work being simple: he picks the sorts of roles that he would like to watch. What does he think, therefore, about the likes of Johnny Depp who famously insist on never watching their own performances? “Johnny Depp should get another job,” Jackson quips with a knowing smile. “Everybody feels about it differently. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. I’m sure there’s time he sits down and watches his films and he is very critical of them. I don’t know how he judges whether he can act or not. That’s Johnny.”
As it turns out, this is not Jackson’s first time setting foot on Irish soil. As well as having performed at the Gate Theatre, Jackson makes sure to visit from time to indulge in one of his lesser-known loves: a round of golf. Golf is so important to Jackson, in fact, that his film contracts contain a clause stating that Jackson must be given at least two days off each week of a film shoot, in order to allow him further his passion. On this visit, Jackson found himself in a bizarre golf pairing with Ronan Keating. How did he get on? “I played well, actually. I had a good time out there. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, and the golf course [The K Club in Straffan, Co Kildare] was a lot of fun and challenging. I’ll be back.” Jackson, however, remained strangely cryptic about the ultimate outcome of the game. “I have no idea who won because I was not part of the competition. They made me play with a lot of different people so I didn’t get to actually keep a score.” Sounds suspiciously like the excuse of someone who didn’t win – not, of course, that one would dare say so to his face.
So what comes next in the Samuel L. Jackson story? Though the casual globetrotting, the high-calibre golfing (he later admits to playing off a respectable handicap of six, in comparison to Keating’s 18) lifestyle and the commendable charity work would themselves make for a sufficiently decadent lifestyle, naturally – and not at all unexpectedly for a man of his acting pedigree – the call of the camera will prove too small to resist for long.
After his brief appearance as Nick Fury (based on a comic book character who in turn was modelled after Jackson himself… I know, trippy, right?) after the closing credits of Iron Man, Jackson has been signed up for a whole host of superhero films. “I’m working on Iron Man 2 at the moment; then they’re doing Thor, and Captain America comes next, and I don’t know when The Avengers will come but eventually there will be one. It’s not happening just yet.”
While it’s great that Jackson is using his celebrity status to help out with worthy causes on a global scale, it’s good to know that we we’re still a few years away from losing the coolest member of Hollywood’s elite from the silver screen. Though he may question how long his cool guy image will last, if Nick Fury is anything to go, Samuel L. Jackson has a proverbial ton of coolness left in him yet.