Moaning MF'n Snakes

Crave talks to Sam Jackson about Black Snake Moan & Afro-Samurai.

I'm sorry, but I just can't let Snakes on a Plane go. I still think we need to get those motherf***in' snakes off that motherf***in' plane. But Samuel L. Jackson has moved on, whether I want him to or not. His latest movie is more about characters than screaming at monsters, even though it's got Snake in the title. In Black Snake Moan, he plays Lazarus, a lonely bluesman who rescues a beaten and bloody girl from the side of the road. But when he sees that she's a true nymphomaniac who will continue to get herself in trouble, he chains her to his radiator so he can cure her sickness. At least there are still plenty of opportunities for SLJ style shouting matches.

Crave Online: I just have to ask, did you run into any motherf***in' snakes down in the motherf***in' south?

Samuel L. Jackson: Well, you know in the south there are snakes. I heard there were some around. I didn't see them.

Crave Online: Did you know you’d had a voice for the blues?

Samuel L. Jackson: No. Fortunately Mississippi delta blues doesn’t necessarily need a silky smooth Luther Vandross type of voice. It's more about making sure the emotion of what you're saying is coming out then being a great singer.

Crave Online: But you play the guitar too?

Samuel L. Jackson: I learned to play. It was one of the things that I spent most of the time doing. Fortunately I had maybe 6 or 7 months to work that out and had a really good guitar teacher in the beginning. Felicia Collins in NY while I was shooting Freedomland then when I left to do Snakes on A Plane in Vancouver the prop master was an awesome guitarist so he spent a lot of time with me in my trailer every day. It was something I did daily, constantly for 6 or 7 months until I was comfortable doing it.  It actually became something I looked forward to doing every day. By the time we got to the film I was pretty fast out on it. I actually taught myself to play the songs in a very different way than Scott played them, because I’d watched him play them and I worked it out like this and he watched me play and said, 'I never thought of doing it that way.' Then I talked to all these old blues guys when we were doing our little road tour and most of them had taught themselves to play after 30 and they all had very different playing styles. So I created something that was actually my own in terms of how I learned how to play and worked my way though the songs. According to Big Jack, that's really cool.

Crave Online: Did you ever wonder why Lazarus took it upon himself to save this girl, instead of just taking her to a hospital?

Samuel L. Jackson: Interestingly enough, I understand the choice just because I understand the rural south because I spent a lot of time in it when I was a kid. My grandfather's brothers were farmers and I spent time on the farm when I was a kid with them walking through the fields and working and hanging out. But there are instances where you find yourself in a circumstance if you put her in your truck and take her to the hospital there a lot more questions than if you keep her at your house and try to nurse her back to health and hopefully she'll walk away. That choice that he made of keeping her there was sort of out of his mind in another kind of way at that point.  He'd lost his woman that he had no control over and all of a sudden he has a woman and she's kind of out of control in that interesting sort of immoral way he pictured his wife. He wanted to control her and fix her in another way. The only way he could think to do that was to put this chain on her and still give her some amount of freedom and kind of pump this biblical medicine into her. It's interesting it's not in the film but we shot a lot of stuff where he's reading the bible to her at different times, like when he puts her in the tub for the first time. He's sitting there on the floor and starts to read to her. She's in the tub and then there's times when she's laying on the sofa and he's reading to her and then there are times when she's eating and he's reading to her, but all that stuff is gone for some reason. The time frame seems kind of off. I don't know how you see it but in our cinematic minds when we shot it she was at his house for over a month, now it looks like she's there a couple of days.

Crave Online: Is it easy to act with a beautiful woman who's almost naked and has a big chain on her?

Samuel L. Jackson: Well, you know after about I guess an hour of looking at Christina in those little panties and that shirt you kind of get over it because that's what she had on every day and she didn't put on a robe between shots and hide herself. She just kind of hung out, so you get over it pretty quickly. The great thing was that during the rehearsal period, Christina and I developed this really interesting bond and interesting trust that allowed her to go anywhere she wanted to and I'd support her to the point where as an actor or as Samuel L. Jackson, I became another sort of Lazarus figure. Writers and directors write things and then when they see it on its feet, it takes on a whole other life and then when they see how far two people who put life in it can go, all of a sudden they go, "Oh my God, I didn't realize it was that. Well let's try this" and you have to go, "No, we don't have to try that because we're already in this place and if you do that then you go too far." Plus there are things in here that are hard and have sharp edges and Christina just kind of goes. If you do that then she's going to break her toe or something's going to fall and you're going to hit her in the head and then we won't be able to work so let's not do that.

Crave Online: How long did you say the chain was?

Samuel L. Jackson: How long?  30-40 feet. She could go all over the house chained to it. You saw how far she could get out into the yard with it on, so it's relatively long and Christina insisted on wearing a real chain all the time so relatively heavy too.

Crave Online: What made you fall in love with this particular character?

Samuel L. Jackson: Well, the complexity of who he is and like I said, he seems to be an amalgam of my grandfather and his brother’s. The guys that I worked with in the fields and talked to and people of the earth who drank hard when it was time to drink and they loved the blues and they sang and told stories and they did all this stuff. It's just an interesting way for me to pay homage to some men that developed me in that particular way that made me want to be a storyteller.

Crave Online: Was the hair your idea?

Samuel L. Jackson: Well, yeah.  Craig actually wanted me to look a lot like R. L. Burnside who actually died when we were shooting. That’s sort of what he looks like and it's also sort of what my grandfather's brothers looked like.  Yeah, it was a conscious choice to have that receding hairline and have white hair to make him older and kind of lived in and walked like he carries a lot of weight around on his shoulders.  Kind of like farmers.  Farmers are very strong and vital kinds of guys but they don't move very fast to conserve their energy.

Crave Online: Why do you think his wife left him?

Samuel L. Jackson: Well, she wanted more. She wanted more out of life. She wanted more fun in her life. She wanted more excitement and vibrancy and Lazarus wasn't providing that. She kind of felt she was on that farm stuck, isolated not going anywhere, not doing anything and she wanted another kind of life and apparently his brother was going to provide that for her.

Crave Online: You're working so much, when do you have time for golf?

Samuel L. Jackson: I have a golf clause in my contract. They have to let me play twice a week.

Crave Online: You're doing the voice of Afro-Samurai. Is that a similar process to The Incredibles?

Samuel L. Jackson: Yeah, you just go into the studio and kind of read the stuff and kind of do it and do it in different spaces in time. All of a sudden somebody will call and it's like, "We need you to come to the studio and do some more stuff" so you do it. Fortunately that project lent itself to me having 2 different voices and being a producer and doing all this other stuff and I guess it's been relatively successful because they've ordered another season, so hopefully we'll get it done.

Crave Online: Do you see a lot of yourself in Afro-Samurai?

Samuel L. Jackson: I see more of myself in Ninja apparently. That’s the most talkative voice.

Crave Online: How do you like producing the show too?

Samuel L. Jackson: It’s great to be able to put something out there that you think people will be interested in and it happened to combine a lot of different things that I like. I like cartoons. I like samurai stories. I like hip-hop. And I like the idea of a post-apocalyptic world where all these things are going on and Bob’s a really smart kid, Bob Okazaki, the developer. He and I, we have an interesting kind of link. Even thought he doesn’t speak very much English and I speak no Japanese, he and I communicate. It’s kind of bizarre, but it works out. Being able to do the show’s a blessing.

Crave Online: Some actors say that when a role scares them or a part scares them initially that they know it's right. Do you go through that process or are you beyond that?

Samuel L. Jackson: Fear? No, I'm always anxious to jump in there and kind of figure out who a person is, where they're coming from and what they're doing. Its part of the challenge and part of the fascination of exploring the human condition for me to be able to safely walk into spaces that are dangerous and know it's a controlled environment and not have to worry about being damaged by it in the end.  But finding or looking back and saying, "Have I seen anybody like that?  Have I talked to anybody like this? What was their process or how did I perceive their process to be?" because it's all make believe. You make up anything you can to make the character fuller for me.  Lazarus had a lot of stuff going on. He led a pretty wild life and gave that life up when he got married and became this farmer which was not what that woman married. She married somebody who had a high-life, who's kind of lively and he bored her and she left and he had no understanding of that whatsoever because he viewed himself as a great provider, kept the house warm and kept you fed but she needed more. He had no conception of that and didn’t understand that his music was what made him a person who was alive in a real sense and once he got back to it he got back to what made him feel better about himself.

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