Transcript for Inside the Actors Studio
Episode #613: “Samuel L. Jackson…The Man, The Hair”
James Lipton: Samuel L. Jackson started out the way many black actors do: robbing restaurants with a shotgun. Luckily for him, it was in a movie, Coming to America, and luckily for me, I eat from an IV tube. The year was 1988, and a young Sam Jackson didn’t exactly steal the show. He didn’t even steal the money. He was beaten senseless by a rattailed Eddie Murphy.
In 1991, he moved up from larceny to victimless crime—crackheadedness—in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. Jackson gained a modicum of attention when his role spawned a brief fad, the herky-jerky “Gator dance”, which today subsists largely in and around the Whitney Houston household.
Movin’ on up, Jackson parlayed the notoriety from Jungle Fever into a key supporting role in the then-highest grossing movie of all time, 1992’s Jurassic Park. He was dismembered by a Velociraptor. Still, he couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. I mean, besides his arms. Ha! But I digress…
Then came Pulp Fiction. After more than a decade of struggle, Jackson finally broke through into the mainstream consciousness. The world was mesmerized by his now-trademark role as a lovably cranky black ball of indignant rage. Talk of Oscar swirled, and deep down, Jackson suspected what the key to his sudden fame was: the hair.
Samuel Jackson: I had my reservations about the jheri curl. I mean, have you ever tasted that stuff? It wasn’t until filming was about to start that I realized you have to put it on your head. And it wasn’t until half-way through filming that I realized it was a wig.
JL: But Jackson wasn’t sold on the whole wig thing initially. After there was little fanfare for his follow-up performance in 1996’s A Time to Kill, however, the writing was on the wall…and the wall was full of hair…and the hair was his…and he was…Samuel Jackson.
SJ: Damn right. I wasn’t sour about losing the Oscar for Pulp Fiction; it was my first time and all. But after I wasn’t even nominated for A Time to Kill, I knew something was up. If I didn’t win based on that performance, it had to be the hair. No one wants to see a receding, nappy ‘do, man. I decided right then and there that it had to go. It had to die. It deserved to die, and I hope it burns in Hell!
JL: Very nice. After A Time to Kill, Jackson vowed he’d never be burned like that again. Indeed, from that point on, “Sam” could’ve been short for Sampson, as he couldn’t make a film without his hair being the focal point. Every role had a different hairstyle; like snowflakes falling to the ground, never the same twice.
SJ: The key for an actor is versatility. You don’t want to be boxed into the same hair for every role. Why do you think Richard Lewis never got anywhere? He still looks like the lost member of Air Supply.
JL: And yet some insist that your hair in The Negotiator, XXX, and Deep Blue Sea were the same, that you got lazy and weren’t stretching yourself.
SJ: If we were in the Wild West, I could shoot you dead with just cause.
[Mr. Jackson looks into the camera.]
SJ: Let me tell you nay-sayers something. You’re ignorant to the intricacies of follicle thespianism. To your untrained eyes, it may have looked like I was wearing the same short ‘fro in all three of those movies, but if you look closely, you’ll see the subtleties. The Negotiator: red ‘fro, Deep Blue Sea: ‘fro with glasses, XXX: ‘fro with facial lesions. All completely and utterly different. Period.
JL: And XXX: State of the Union?
[Mr. Jackson leaps onto Mr. Lipton and throws him to the ground with a series of rabbit punches to the kidney. Security breaks up the fracas. Twenty minutes later, we resume.]
JL: Now that the pills have taken hold, let’s run through a few specific roles, shall we? How about Formula 51?
SJ: Ah yes, the cornrows. They’re hard to pull off. Literally. They stuck to my scalp like a mofo.
JL: And Caveman’s Valentine?
SJ: Those crazy dreadlocks. The best acting advice I can give you kids in the audience today is this: White people shouldn’t get dreads. You just end up looking homeless. It makes me wanna toss a quarter in your cup of latte, then kick you in the teeth, drink your latte, and take my quarter back. Hippies.
JL: And Jackie Brown?
SJ: Your mama.
JL: That’s uncalled for.
SJ: No, I modeled my hair after your mama.
JL: I thought that beard looked familiar…
JL: What about your most recent foray: The Man?
SJ: You know, Jack, an actor is lucky to get the role of a lifetime once in his career. I’ve been fortunate enough to get two: The Man and, of course, Loaded Weapon 1.
SJ: And we all know why I didn’t get any awards for Loaded Weapon.
JL: The old, receding, nappy ‘do?
SJ: Exactly. Not to toot my own horn, but I fully expect to get the nod for The Man when Oscar time comes around. You see, a good wig can make a good performance great, and it can make a great performance classic—like a handicap or a mental deficiency. Look at Forrest Gump, or that chick from Million Dollar Baby.
JL: Um, I don’t think Hillary Swank was handicapped…
SJ: Really? I thought she, like, had some horse disease or something. Oh wait, that’s right; it’s her husband that’s deformed. He’s a dwarf, right?
JL: Moving on… What about those who say that, you know, it’s just hair. It’s not worthy of an Oscar.
SJ: And what’s really “worthy” of an Oscar nowadays? Halle Berry got one for screwing a redneck and acting ignorant—and if you ever met her, believe me, it wasn’t acting. With that criteria, B.A.P.S. should’ve won Best Picture. Mira Sorvino, Kim Basinger, Roberto Benigni; you’re telling me they deserve Oscars? Cuba Gooding, Jr. starred in a movie with Sisqo, for God’s sake. You may as well give the award to a bowl of chili.
JL: Sisqo has nice hair, though.
SJ: Yeah, but he stole it from The Great White Hype. All these kids today think they can just throw on some wild hairstyle and suddenly they’re hair actors. I’m the original hactor! Just the other day, this boy steps to me on the street, talkin’ ‘bout my days are done, and all he was comin’ with was a lousy perm with a chinstrap! I flipped him for real. I started out with some Ready for the World, followed by a Gumby, then some Flock of Seagulls, an inverted Billy Ray Cyrus, both Kid and Play, and to top it all off, “The Rachel”. The punk never knew what hit him.
JL: I’m sure.
SJ: None of these kids have the balls to pull off something like that Unbreakable hair. That was taking it back to the 19th Century; some Frederick Douglas abolitionist shit. I’m going to another level, man. I’m gonna blow their minds with what I’ve got coming: the monk cut, the reverse Mohawk, the braided mullet, the halfro, the…Lipton.
SJ: Do you really think I came here just to do an interview with you, to educate these wannabe hactors? No, Jack, I needed to get close enough to observe, to absorb…you. Such precision on the comb-over. [Mr. Jackson strokes Mr. Lipton’s hair tenderly.] So wispy thin, so…elusive. And the beard…so pre-pubescent…half-baked, like a burn victim. I’d like to run hot water through it and make Lipton tea.
JL: Um, I love my wife…
[Mr. Jackson leans over and rests his head on Mr. Lipton’s, humming “Let the Sunshine In”. The director rushes in and pulls Mr. Lipton to safety as Mr. Jackson’s assistant slips a pill into Mr. Jackson’s mouth and tears up the television release form.]
Announcer: Be sure to tune in next week for Episode #614: “Jennifer Lopez, My Ass!”