Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub
Opening this Friday is one of the last movies Bernie Mac made and it’s called “Soul Men.” The film is the story of Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac), a popular singing duo who went their separate ways and never spoke again. When the death of their former group leader (John Legend) reunites them and sends them driving cross country for a tribute concert at the legendary Apollo Theatre, they will have only five days to bury the hatchet on a twenty-year-old grudge.
Anyway, I recently participated in a roundtable interview with the always great to talk with, Samuel L. Jackson.
During the interview he talked about working with Bernie and he told us a few behind the scenes stories. He also spoke about all of his upcoming projects. If you’re a fan of Mr. Jackson’s, you’ll dig the interview.
As always, if you’d like to listen to the interview click here. Finally, if you’d like to watch some movie clips from “Soul Men,” click here.
Again, “Soul Men” opens this weekend at theaters everywhere.
Question: Was Louis an especially fun character to play? Being up on stage and really getting to perform in front of different crowds, and did you get to model him after any of your favorite singers?
Jackson: Yeah, it was fun. I loved Louis. Its amazing to be able to get into a performance mode, do a character that is that rich and been around. The kind of relationship that these guys have from being kids together, they have known each other so very well for that long, it’s a wonderful thing to put together and play. Then being able to sing and dance in live situations with extras that had never seen us do it before, that were like us having our own place, and having a captive audience. We had a good time doing that too.
Were there singers you modeled him after that you were a big fan of?
Did you take to the dancing right away? Was that something you were ready and excited about? Were you going in there with a little hesitation trying to figure out how to do the moves?
Jackson: No, I was cool with it. I did musicals in college and theatre in New York. The dance is okay. Plus, most guys at some point in our lives fancy ourselves as one of the ‘Temptations’ or one of the ‘Pips’. Stand in the mirror, sing, and all that stuff. It’s cool.
What musicals did you do in college?
Jackson: Wow. ‘Dr. B.S. Black’, ‘Three Penny Opera’. Lots of them.
We heard that Bernie Mac did an impression of you. Was he pretty right on?
Jackson: I never saw it.
He didn’t do it in front of you?
Jackson: Not to my knowledge, but I wouldn’t have recognized it.
I was also wondering if ‘possum face motherfucker’ was an improv he came up with?
Jackson: Yeah, along with boy pussy. I was like ‘What?’ He was like ‘I don’t like boy pussy.’ I was like ‘What?’ it killed us and I thought ‘They are going to keep that? I guess this movie is not PG.’
There was so much improv coming from him. Everybody that has been through here so far said that you tend to stick pretty close to what is on the page. Is that part of the fun? Sticking to the page when you are getting improv thrown at you and trying to keep it in a certain direction? How do you feel when he’s throwing new stuff at you every second?
Jackson: As long as I know it’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen in a structured way even if it’s improv, then I know Bernie goes off the page. I know that we have to get through a specific section. We have to give certain amounts of information to an audience. So, if during rehearsal I can say to Bernie ‘Okay, when you get through doing that just let me know you are done so I can say this line. Wink at me, do something, and let me know I can do this line. We got to get this amount of information. We got to let them know that we are going to do this, go here, and go there.’ He could do that. I just knew to shut up and let Bernie do what Bernie was going to do. They finally would get enough of it, laugh enough, and say cut.
There is a part where you bark like a dog and Bernie looks like he’s about ready to laugh?
Jackson: He had never seen it, yeah.
Was that in the script?
Jackson: Nah, he had no idea I was going to do that. I was at that point where I was like ‘Okay, Bernie is being funny. I got to do something funny.’
You were very funny.
Jackson: Thank you.
Did you have a favorite moment behind the scenes with Bernie? Something you’ll always kind of remember?
Jackson: No. We knew each other. We’ve known each other for a very long time. I’ve known Bernie for like 15 years or so, and we talk, hung out, so seeing him everyday was just part of the blessing of being able to do something. Finally finding something that worked for both of us. People have been trying it for a long time. So, no, nothing special, I was just glad he made it everyday.
What was it like working with Isaac Hayes?
Jackson: Cool. Bernie and I both knew Isaac in another kind of way. I’ve flown half way around the world with Isaac and just hung out with him, talked to him. But being able to do the music of Stax in one way, it’s very cool, then to have Isaac there as a real representative of probably the most successful act that was ever on that label. Then being able to do an Isaac Hayes song in the middle of the film while he’s sitting there watch us do it? A little daunting for a minute but then you look at him and you see he’s going with it. So you think ‘Alright, we’re killing it.’
Was that your favorite number to shoot? Did you have another particular favorite?
Jackson: My favorite was ‘Boogie Ain’t Nothing’, at the country western bar. I loved that. Somebody playing the Electric Slide, or Cha-Cha. I don’t get to line dance that often.
You shot in Memphis. Did you have a favorite place that if you could go back today you would go to? For the food or whatever?
Jackson: I can’t remember her name… What? [Laughs] I played golf all over Memphis, so there are lots of great golf courses there. There was a fried chicken place right around the corner from where I used to live. It always tasted like they fried the chicken in hot sauce. It was awesome. They gave you the chicken in a little brown bag and the bag would just be so greasy. It was like ‘Yes!’
What about shooting the montage? That is so fantastic. Was there an era that you couldn’t wait to get to?
Jackson: No, we just kind of put on the stuff. The pompadours were kind of funny because that’s a specific era. You remember seeing groups like that for sure. Then the ‘Earth, Wind, & Fire’ mode. We were up there actually singing ‘Shining Star’ and John [Legend] didn’t know the words. We were like ‘Everybody knows “Shining Star”.’
If you were going to go on tour tomorrow who would you want to go with? If you could take two actors or two musicians, go on tour, and start your own band? Who would you want to be with?
Jackson: Probably Carlos Santana and Bootsy Collins.
What would the name of the band be?
Jackson: I have no idea.
Something ‘badass motherfucker’s’ come on!
Jackson: I guess it could be, just…yeah. ‘Motherfuckah’ with an ‘A’, ‘H’.
Bernie’s performance is so good in this movie. Its so what you want to see him doing and his chemistry is so good with you. Did he know how good he was in this film?
Jackson: Probably. Aside from the fact that I told him everyday, and we talked about it everyday. The really sad thing, the saddest thing for me…its interesting because I heard he was dead, Star Jones actually called us, I was in New York, and she said that Bernie had passed. The first thing I thought was ‘Damn, Bernie ain’t going to get to see the movie.’ But, if you had to pick a vehicle and say ‘This is the last movie you’ll ever get to do.’ and an audience watches this film, it will be the Bernie Mac that they knew and loved. The Bernie Mac that came into their homes every week, the guy that was the King of Comedy, and made them pee on themselves when he was doing his act. He would sing, and dance, it had this dramatic arc that he’s responsible for, it runs through the movie. It’s a fitting last performance for somebody to remember him by. All the elements of the Bernie that people knew and loved are in this film.
As we reminisce about it today it sounds like you are not too nostalgic about it, is that the way that Bernie would have rather been remembered?
Jackson: He would have found a way to make a joke about it. If I weren’t here doing this thing he would have had something funny to say about it. He would have been poignant and then he would have been funny. He died one day, then the next day Isaac died, so somebody said to me ‘Do we need to get you to a safe house?’
It seems like one of the really cool things about the movie is that you guys have such a swagger and class, both you and Bernie, but you don’t see that as much with the young actors. It’s interesting to see that you guys have grown up with it and its still funny. It still feels so fresh. You are still cool.
Jackson: We were kind of grown when it happened for us. The level of hard work that we know we put in, and the pay off for it, kind of gives you a reason to feel like ‘I earned it, I deserve it, and I can stand up a little straighter.’ Those two characters also, you look at those two guys, they are two guys that Bernie and I recognize and know in a very real way. They are guys of a certain age but they grew up together. They were kids together. They know a lot about each other. When you look at the hierarchy of groups, the group dynamic, when it was Marcus and the Real Deal, Marcus was the cute guy who was out front. He could sing and the girls dug him so he got to pick the girls first. I was the guy who could really dance. Girls like guys who can dance, so I got to pick girls second. Floyd was the guy who thought he should have been Marcus. ‘He ain’t no better than I am. Why is he the leader? I should be the leader.’ So he got to pick last because he was always grumpy. They know things about each other. Louis was the guy who always defended the group. Floyd was the guy who talked a lot of shit and got everybody in trouble. I was the guy who led the fight. Marcus we just kept out of the way because he was cute. In group dynamic when people break up they break up for reasons. Most times its money, we still see that, guys are still fighting about money. But they go back on tour so they can make money. These guys fell out about a girl. That happens to be a girl that they both fell in love with, loved separately, and together. There is a questionable paternity thing going on in there too. Once they get past the fact that she was in love with both of us, we both had this love for her, but she’s gone. Now they have to figure out why they are still together and what it was that brought them back together. Floyd’s desire to be famous again gets infectious to Louis. He starts out wanting the money, but once they start performing again you get that ‘Maybe we can get that last kind of thing.’ Everybody wants some closure on their career. It’s an interesting dynamic between the two guys.
Louis is obviously a badass. You are probably the best one in Hollywood. Is there an internal badass style you have that when you approach a character you just think…?
Jackson: No, not at all. I just know that the group dynamic lends itself to this thing when they grew up. Louis was the guy who was the hard ass in the group. He was the hardest drinker, the hardest druggie, and when something went wrong he was the guy who went there and did something about it, or raised the most hell about it. Floyd talked a lot of shit, but he didn’t do shit. Then when he goes to prison there is a certain thing that sets you up. You’ve been in prison for 30 years for robbing banks. That sets you up in another kind of way to come back out in the world. He found himself in another kind of way. He reads more now, got this phony prophet of his. There is this thing he learned in prison. He is a singular individual that has a straight line. There are lines you don’t cross.
Do you do badass that well because you are just badass yourself or are you drawn to those characters?
Jackson: I just figure out a way to make the character like that, you know? I’ve never been a badass.
Of all the characters you have played in your career which ones do you think might make a good Halloween costume?
Jackson: Definitely the Octopus, but you haven’t seen ‘The Spirit’ yet. He’s a costume wonder. I’ve seen people as Jules, with the blood and brains in their hair, the Afro. It always works.
You will probably see a lot of Nick Fury’s in the future.
Jackson: I hadn’t thought of that, but I haven’t actually played Nick Fury yet. I showed up as Nick Fury. It’s interesting because I saw Favreau last night.
Are things getting rolling?
Jackson: Yeah, it’s close to being done.
Do you see Nick Fury being his own movie maybe? Is that something you would like to do?
Jackson: I would love that, but you got to be part of ‘Iron Man II’, ‘Thor’, ‘Captain America’, and then ‘The Avengers’ will probably happen at some point.
Is David Hasselhoff really pissed at you for taking over the role of Nick Fury?
Jackson: I saw him the other week, he didn’t seem to be.
How much fun is ‘The Spirit’ going to be?
Jackson: Hopefully a lot for people. I’ve seen it, I loved it, and it’s got its own space. A lot of people think it’s going to look like ‘Sin City’ but it’s not. It looks totally different. It’s a real live action cartoon, because we get to do some kind of outrageous stuff to each other.
How badass is The Octopus?
Jackson: Pretty crazy.
Having been friends with Bernie Mac over the years did you see his health go up and down?
Jackson: I guess it was up and down. Everybody knew Bernie had been sick and had been in and out of the hospital. He’s also the kind of guy or performer that he’s one of the ‘Show must go on.’ kinds of guys. By the time we got ready to do the film he was physically able to do the things we needed him to do in the film. There were days when he was a bit more robust than others, but he always showed up and did his job.
Is ‘Afro Samurai’ live action? Is it retelling the story or continuing?
Jackson: I don’t know yet, they haven’t turned in a script. They won’t turn in that script.
And was the meeting with Favreau specifically for ‘Iron Man’?
Jackson: No, I was hanging out with him at the Scream Awards.