The action-adventure flick Big Game sees the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) escaping from a crashing Air Force One into the rugged countryside of Finland. There, he comes across a young 13-year-old (Onni Tommila) on a traditional quest to prove he can survive 24 hours alone in the wild, and the unlikely duo must escape a group of kidnappers who are hot on their trail and looking to take the President.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Samuel L. Jackson talked about playing a not-so-presidential President, why this film will appeal to kids, that he’s totally comfortable with letting his stunt man (who he’s worked with for 15 or 20 years) do the stunts, and the injury he sustained during this shoot. He also talked about whether he’s ever considered directing, what gets him to sign on for a project, the incredible experience he had shooting The Hateful Eight with Quentin Tarantino, how much fun he’s had playing Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and why he wanted to be a part of the upcoming The Blob remake.
Collider: There is such an interesting dynamic in this film, between you and the young boy, because you’re not father and son, but are more like two equals of very different ages.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: Yeah, it’s kind of fun, that way. A lot of people ask me, “So, how was it playing the President?,” but he’s not so presidential. He’s a guy who’s lost in a place where he has no power. He goes from being the most powerful person in the free world, to a guy who has no power in the place that he’s in. He needs to depend on someone, and he finds someone, but that someone presents himself as one thing, and then you realize that he’s in the same position that you are. My presidency is in doubt, and his ability to do what he’s been sent out to do is in doubt. As the mature one, it’s up to me to help him learn this life lesson about that people think about you is not necessarily who you are, and you have to find this place within yourself to become who you want to be and discover what your potential might actually be. So, it’s great, in that way. It’s an interesting little film for kids who are tweeners, in that particular place where they want to be something, but they don’t believe, or people around them don’t believe, that they can. And here’s an opportunity to see somebody who might be in the place that they’re in, and it’s set in the middle of a big adventure story.
When everything is stripped away and you’re dropped off in the middle of the woods, it doesn’t really matter who you are and what your age is, you just have to figure out how to survive it.
You’re playing the President of the United States, even though he’s not the best President. Was it cool to be referred to as Mr. President, in those moments?
JACKSON: I only get referred to as Mr. President a couple of times, right in the beginning. It was more like being me. Yesterday, when I got to Berlin, we went out to eat. I went in a restaurant and the first person referred to me as Denzel [Washington]. And then, another guy insisted that I’m Morgan Freeman, even though I Googled a picture of Morgan Freeman and held it up to my face. He still said, “Yeah, you’re Morgan Freeman.” So, I might as well not be me.
Had you ever had any desire to play a presidential role before?
JACKSON: Not really. The kind of films that I watched, as a kid, didn’t make me go, “Wow, I can’t wait to play the President.” Usually, when you’re the President, you’re either in some political quagmire, or you’re in a situation like this one where somebody is trying to kill you or there’s a plot of some sort. Unless you’re Frank Underwood (from House of Cards) and you’re having fun messing everybody else up in the world.
Did you know exactly what you’d be getting yourself into when you signed on for this, with just how physical of a role it would be?
JACKSON: Usually, when you sign up to do something that has this many set pieces in it, you know what you’re setting yourself up for. And I have a fantastic stunt man, that I’ve had for 15 or 20 years. He’s really good at what he does, and he likes doing stuff. It’s really great to let him do things that he likes to do. I don’t have to hang off a cliff and say, “It was really tough doing these stunts myself, in this movie.” I don’t have any problem saying, “My stunt man is awesome!”
Obviously, you weren’t hanging from a helicopter or rolling down the hill in it, but did you have any issues getting into the freezer box, or are you okay with tight spaces like that?
JACKSON: I’m not claustrophobic, so I had no problem getting in the freezer. I did have one accident that wasn’t supposed to happen because it wasn’t supposed to be an action scene. I was sitting in the freezer, but they had the freezer hanging up about 10 feet in the air. Onni [Tommila] was standing on the freezer and I hand him a knife, and the camera was on the other end, doing a close-up. When he jumped off the freezer, I guess the riggers didn’t realize that they had made the camera rig on this particular shot a lot heavier than I was. So, when he jumped off, the thing flipped me out of there, about 20 feet in the air, and I snapped ligaments on my collar bone. That was not good.
Was being in the water a problem for you, at all?
JACKSON: I was a swimmer in college, so I like the water. That was fun, doing that dive and going up into the plane.
What was it like to work so closely with Onni Tommila for so much of the film?
JACKSON: He was great. He’d done Jalmari Helander’s first film, and Jalmari is his uncle, so there was a family dynamic there. He came to work, every day, ready to work and was really prepared. He was a little nervous on the first day, and I helped him get over that by saying, “Look, man, we’re here to have fun. I’m an actor in this movie, just like you. I’m not a big movie star. I’m just a guy doing a movie with you. We’re the same. So, let’s go. Let’s have some fun.” And we did.
At any point in your career, working with such talented and varied people behind the camera, did you ever think about directing, or have you always just wanted to focus on acting?
JACKSON: I’m pretty focused on what I do. I think directing is a very specific talent, and I’m not real big on putting puzzles together, which is basically what a film is. When you get down to it, you shoot the scenes, and then you’ve gotta go in there and look at all the different shots and put this with that. I’d rather move on and do the next movie than sit for six months, trying to put a movie together and put the music in it. I can do two movies, in that time.
As someone who probably doesn’t have to work anymore, if you chose not to, what draws you to a project and ultimately makes you want to sign on?
JACKSON: You know, I still see myself as a storyteller. So, when I read something, I see the story, and I see it on screen, in my head, in a certain way. I always want to see it and see me in it. Painters get up and paint. Writers get up and write. I like to get up and act. It’s not a big deal. It makes me happy.
You’ve had quite a career history with Quentin Tarantino and brought some really great characters to life with him. I’m very anxious to see The Hateful Eight, and I’m curious what it was like, working with another terrific ensemble, compared to previous collaborations you’ve had with Tarantino?
JACKSON: It’s very different in that it’s a real ensemble piece. There’s eight people trapped in a room, in a snowstorm, and the bond that we developed, over the course of shooting that film, has been pretty amazing. We have this freaky text chain that we’re all on, and we still text each other, even though we’re done. Everybody is spread out all over the place. Walt [Goggins] is in one place, doing a movie. Kurt [Russell] is in New Orleans, doing a movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is doing something somewhere. Tim [Roth] was in Cannes. We’re still texting each other, every day, talking about the stuff that we’re doing. We miss being together, and we refer to ourselves as The Haters. It was amazing. All of us are so anxious to see this movie because, every day, the work was incredible. It was taxing, in a very interesting way, because we were in the snow, at first, and then we get inside this room. Quentin shot on a refrigerated set, and it was 30 degrees, every day, in there. We were miserable in the environment. You could see our breath, but the stuff that we were doing was amazing. We would finish doing a scene and look at each other and just grin like, “This is incredible.” And we may be blowing smoke up our own asses, but I hope it’s as good as we felt like it was when we were doing it. That’s all I can say about that. I’m anxious to see it, too.
What does it mean to you to get to play a character like Nick Fury, who gets to be a part of so many stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the TV show? And people not only love those movies, but also really love that character. How much fun is it to be a part of that?
JACKSON: It’s an amazing amount of fun. I finally met Mark [Millar], last year, when I was doing Kingsman, ‘cause he was on set one day, and I finally got a chance to thank him for making Nick Fury black and changing the whole dynamic. It’s really great to be the connective tissue between so many different characters in so many different films, that brings those guys together. But I’m not in Captain America 3. I can’t figure that out, but I’m not. I guess I’m still out there, trying to figure out what happened to S.H.I.E.L.D. and who these other people are. But it’s an amazing honor to be that guy, to be Nick Fury, to be in that particular world, and to be a character that people believe. It’s great. I’m as grateful for being in that, as I was being in Star Wars with George [Lucas] and to play a character that people remember, like Mace Windu. It’s all great. It’s hard not to be a part of something that you know, if people study film for the next 200 years, they’ll be talking about Star Wars and The Avengers series, and all that stuff.
What is the status of your Marvel contract, at this point?
JACKSON: I think I have two films left on a nine-picture deal.
Are you interested for however long they want you, if they want you for longer than that?
JACKSON: Of course! I’m looking for a contract extension right now, yeah. I’m looking to re-up.
When you think back to the career that you might have been hoping for, when you first started out as an actor, has it turned out anything like you imagined it to be?
JACKSON: It’s hard to say that because there’s no way to imagine what all this turned out to be. You look at Hollywood, as a young actor, and you see people going to premieres and you see them in movies, and you think, “Okay, that must be cool. That must be great.” But, you have no idea what all that is until you get to it. The interesting thing is getting there, and then figuring out a way to stay. There are so many actors that have a break and you see them in a movie, or you see them in two movies, and then they disappear and you wonder what happened. You reach a point where you have an opportunity to make choices, and when I got to the point where I had a chance to make choices, I made sure that I made choices that were interesting to me, and were hopefully interesting to an audience, so that I wouldn’t end up being painted into this corner or this box that only allowed me to do certain kinds of films. So, I’ve made a way to allow myself to do big films, small films, dramas, comedies, action films, horror films, or whatever interests me, as a movie-goer. I like watching myself in movies. I want to choose movies that allow me to enjoy myself, the way that I want to entertain myself.
You clearly have a career that many actors must be envious of because there is such a huge variety to it.
JACKSON: I hope so. Every now and then, I’ll read stuff online that people think I play the same guy, all the time, but in my mind, I don’t.
What attracted you to and excited you about The Blob?
JACKSON: I remembered it, from when I was a kid and went to see it at the movie theater. I can’t wait to be a part of the new one. I always liked it. Sometimes one of my ways of choosing movies that I want to do is if it’s the kind of movie I would have gone to see when I was a kid, and this is a movie I actually did go see, as a kid. And I think it will be exciting for audiences to see now.
Big Game is in theaters and on VOD on June 26th.