Sunday Geekersation: Jackson unleashes the Fury
05:00 AM, Aug 18, 2013
On cinema screens, he’s played a Jedi, a comic-book secret agent, a couple of supervillains and an animated superhero, plus faced some mother-lovin’ snakes on a mother-lovin’ plane.
That alone would probably be enough to make a case for Samuel L. Jackson in the geek hall of fame, but he got his nerd cred the old-fashioned way, too.
“I still go to the comic book store twice a month. I still play my video games at home from time to time. I watch all kinds of pop-culture movies,” says the Oscar-nominated actor and Comic-Con fixture.
“There is a fragment of our society that is alive and having fun and not just consumed by politics and crime and poverty. People are still having fun.”
And none more than Jackson. As the Marvel Comics superspy Nick Fury, Jackson is enjoying one of his most memorable roles and one he gets to keep coming back to: When he’s clad in the familiar eye patch and leather trench coat in the sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier (in theaters April 4), it’ll be his sixth time playing the classic agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.(short for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) from comic-book lore that Jackson has made his own.
He reteams with star Chris Evans for Winter Soldier, where Evans’ World War II hero Steve Rogers has to deal with the oddities of present-day America while working with S.H.I.E.L.D. the government agency with Fury, Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and dealing with the return of a person from his past.
Jackson will also be back for director Joss Whedon’s 2015 sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which pits Fury and the Avengers vs. the title’s villainous genocidal robot.
Before then, the actor, who played Jedi Mace Windu in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy, has a role in Spike Lee’s Oldboy (out Nov. 27), and a bunch of movies scheduled for next year including the crime thriller Reasonable Doubt, the action film Kite, a remake of Robocop, the comedy Barely Lethal, the president-in-danger movie Big Game and Secret Service, based on the Mark Millar comic.
Among his fellow fanboys, though, Nick Fury is always the guy they love seeing in the movies, and Jackson, 64, discusses the character with USA TODAY plus talks about working with a screen legend and spotting a key difference between icons Lucas and Whedon.
Q. When moviegoers see Nick in Winter Soldier next year, what will they learn about him next?
A. You see Nick Fury the office guy, him going about the day-to-day work of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the politics as opposed to that other stuff. It’s great to have him dealing with Captain America in terms of being able to speak to him soldier to soldier and try to explain to him how the world has changed in another way while he was frozen in time. Some of the people who used to be our enemies are now our allies him trying to figure out, “Well, how do we trust those guys?” or “How do we trust the guys that you didn’t trust who don’t trust you? And explaining to him that the black and white of good guys/bad guys has now turned into this gray area.
Nick lies to him all the time, too. (Laughs) But he’s trying to help him navigate the waters of the new sharks that he doesn’t know anything about.
Q. If you watch the news, a shadowy organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t seem that far off from reality.
A. Of course not.
Q. We’re supposedly getting bugged by the NSA and the government’s reading our e-mail …
A. You were surprised?
Q. Well, not really.
A. (Laughs) All the times when I sit at home and wave at my TV: “How you guys doing?”
Q. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the comics’ S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 1960s, it was very much in the vein of James Bond movies and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., yet it now mirrors our own world.
A. Yeah, what’s going on now. The fact that the mirrored Helicarriers are out there and you can’t see them and they’re listening and dealing. Like the drones.
Q. The new Robocop is another action movie that seems to be reflective of the world and a modern update of the Reagan-era original.
A. It’s very timely in the fact that we are using mechanized things and we’re fighting from a distance as opposed to up close, and the boots on the ground don’t necessarily have to be human.
Q. As a comic-book fan yourself, is it cool to see that Marvel can roll out obscure characters that 95% of the world doesn’t know, like Falcon in Winter Soldier and the outer-space cast of Guardians of the Galaxy, and people will still flock to see them because they trust what you’ve done so far?
A. They have been successful at it and they do know how to do it. You put the right people in the right place doing the right things, things work out.
(With The Avengers) Joss was just perfect in terms of his mind-set and being one of these people, as opposed to one of the people trying to figure out how to touch these people. He’s a fanboy he reads comics and he understands. He knows how to develop this kind of stuff and he knows how to relate to the mind of these people who are buying the stuff because he wants it.
I don’t just do movies because, “Oh my God, that’s a great director!” I want to see that movie and I want to see me in it. If it’s a great story and it’s one of those things I would have gone to see as a kid, sometimes that’s the only reason I need to be in a movie: “Wow, I would have sat in a movie theater and watched that like three times.” And that was before they pulled you out of movies! We could actually stay there all day and watch the movie over and over again. Just keep buying popcorn and they were cool.
Q. Had you ever worked with Robert Redford before?
A. There were a couple of films they called me to do he was in, and I was doing something and I didn’t have the opportunity to go and do them. It was perfect to be able to finally get on screen with somebody I respected and have enjoyed over the years. It was a real treat.
Q. Is his character Nick Fury’s boss?
A. Yeah, he’s part of that World Security Council I was talking to in (The Avengers), just he wasn’t there. We also know each other because we’ve been comrades for a very long time.
Q. Do we get a good backstory on him and how he fits in with everything?
A. Sorta kinda. There’s some stuff that’s said that gives you an idea of how he’s been part of that environment for a long time and the kind of guy he was.
Q. Marvel is always looking for creative types to share their vision for these characters. Would you ever consider directing one of these films?
A. Can you imagine the responsibility that is? Not really. I like hanging around in my trailer and watching Judge Judy. (Laughs)
Q. So you’re OK with just wearing the eye patch.
A. Yeah, because you have to live with a movie for a long time. In the time it takes to edit, score and get a movie out, I can do three movies.
Q. When the S.H.I.E.L.D. gear goes on, do you always try to find something about Fury new to explore, maybe even something not in the script?
A. There’s always stuff to deal with when I’m being Nick. Everything has another meaning with Nick. Finding the truth of what he’s saying in that particular moment is the important thing. Ultimately there’s a lie in there somewhere. Sometimes it’s a lie he’s been told that he hasn’t discovered, so I have to deal with that all the time.
There’s also the nature of his relationship with different people. Like when he talks to Cap, he can talk to Cap in several different ways. He can talk to him as an equal in terms of they were both soldiers from a specific era, and you understand his kind of morality. He can also talk to him as a guy who’s part of a world he doesn’t know anything about, and he’s a mentor now to help him do something. And then I speak to him sometimes as a boss. There’s all those things I have to blend in to make sure he doesn’t get rankled or ruffled in a certain kind of way and make sure he understands.
And when I talk to Natasha, it’s as a father figure because he loves her in a way that he doesn’t love anybody else as part of that whole group of people. The fact that they’re both members of this shadow world and he knows her past in a way that no one else knows it, there’s an affection and a respect there and a knowledge of that kind of person she is in there. Even if she loves him, if she had to kill him, she would, and he understands that. There’s a way of dealing with her that he can’t deal with anybody else.
There are all kinds of things that happen. When I’m dealing with the world council, I’ve got a whole other attitude. And when I look in the mirror, I have to deal with what kind of patriot am I? There’s Nick dealing with Nick, and how many lies have I told? Have I told so many lies that I don’t really know what’s the truth anymore?
Q. Cobie Smulders’ S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill from The Avengers is showing up in the pilot for the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series this fall on ABC. Has Nick Fury been requested, as well?
A. No! I keep talking to them about it. I keep saying, “If nothing else, let me be Charlie of Charlie’s Angels. Use my voice to send them off to do stuff sometimes.” Joss just looked at me like, “Hmmm. Maybe.”
Q. He seems like a guy who keeps things close to the vest.
A. Very much so.
Q. When working with George Lucas on the Star Wars prequels, was he like that, too?
A. No, George wasn’t. The script was secret in a way they did give us the whole script, but you just couldn’t talk about it. And George was very open about what he wanted to do: “Eh, just do it and let me see it.”
Joss is very “No, don’t do it that way. Do it this way.” He has a very specific reason for that. He will even stop you from saying “wasn’t” to “was not,” because that’s comic-book speak. You’ll kind of go, “Really, Joss?” And he’ll go, “Yeah. Really.”
You do it that way and then when you see the movie, you go, “Oh, I get what he was trying to say.”
Q. You’re attached to play the commander in chief in Big Game. Is that a first?
A. That seems to be in fashion now. Everyone’s doing “Black president in danger!” I’ve never played the president. Only a Jedi.
Q. That’s pretty close.
A. No. Way better than the president.
(Sunday Geekersation is a weekly series of Q&As featuring luminaries, mainstays and newcomers of geek culture discussing their projects, influences and pop culture.)