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Samuel L. Jackson Talks How Being A Hollywood Star Was Never A Real Dream When He Was Growing Up, But How He Landed There Anyway

Samuel L. Jackson on Saturday Night Live
(Image credit: NBC)

Samuel L. Jackson has been Hollywood’s box office king for five decades -- and has surprisingly never even won a competitive Oscar. Of course, Jackson got his just due with an honorary Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. Despite his success and dominance in the industry, he didn't always dream of being an actor. The Marvel veteran spoke about this in an interview, explaining how he landed in the entertainment business, despite never dreaming of entering it once he drew up.

The Oscar winner made the surprising revelation while being interviewed by Deadline. Samuel L. Jackson mentioned that he grew up listening to the radio, trading stories with his grandfather, and having an active imagination instead of watching television. His only interaction with visual media came on Saturdays when he would spend all day watching cartoons and movie serials at the movie theater. He admired movie swashbucklers like Burt Lancaster and Errol Flynn but didn’t see a future in the film industry despite al of that. The Spider-Man: Far From Home actor spilled how growing up in the segregated American South limited his possibilities, though he did gain a slight spark, thanks to a family member:

Imagining that you wanted to be on screen or be a movie star was like, no, that was crazy. I grew up in segregation, you know, that didn’t happen… It never occurred to me that I could be a movie star, even though I was watching Sidney Poitier from time to time on screen. It just was not in the realm of possibility. It was not something that you could aspire to. That was a pipe dream. Nobody ever told me I could be what I am now. People told me I could be a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, or whatever. No one told me I could be this thing, you know. I discovered it only because I lived in a house with a woman, my aunt, who was a performing arts teacher, and every time that she had to do a play, pageant, or whatever, I lived in the house with her. So, from the time I was like three years old, she was putting me in stuff. I understood the applause, I understood people pinching you on the cheek… and that made me feel good.

Growing up in segregation apparently cast a realistic lens on the Shaft star’s acting aspirations (or lack thereof) early on. The lack of representation also seemed to shaped his idea of what was feasible for Black performers at the time. Though it's sweet to hear that his aunt played a role in exposing him to the stage.

Eventually, Samuel L. Jackson decided to pursue a medical career, but the acting bug took hold of him during his tenure at Morehouse College in the 1970s. His decision to take a specific course, paired with the rise of cinema's blaxploitation era, made him realize an acting career could be a possibility:

I got that part of it, but it never occurred to me [that] I can do this as a living, and people will tell me how much they love me, how much they like me whatever. That didn’t occur to me until maybe somewhere in college, where I started watching these blaxploitation films, that was more Black representation on screen… I had a friend who was an actor, a guy that I grew up with, who was an actor in the Morehouse/Spelman players in college. And I took a public speaking course, and all of a sudden, the guy offered us extra credit if we would do Threepenny Opera because he didn’t have enough guys, once again. And I did it, and all this stuff that I had done when I was a kid came flooding back to me, and it was like, ‘Oh, wow. I actually feel like getting up and going to class now or going to this thing.’ And all of a sudden, I was there, and it became like a career, sort of like a crack that I could look at and say, ‘Well, I’m tired of studying all of this damn science. I can just go over here, hang out with these girls, and act and be sex, drugs, and cheap thrills in the theater. So, let’s do that and see what happens.’

I'm incredibly thankful that he found his way to that public speaking course, as he may not have entered the acting realm without it. Just think, the world wouldn’t have gotten his performances as Star Wars' Mace Windu, Jurassic Park's Ray Arnold, or Marvel's Nick Fury. Those roles are fantastic as are his turns in Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, for which he was snubbed.

The 73-year-old actor certainly has an acting resume longer than most, which has allowed him to become Hollywood’s top-earning star. And he's still as busy as ever with film and television projects after five decades in Hollywood. He recently led Apple TV+’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey and will be heard in Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, which arrives in theaters on July 15th.

And his Marvel tenure is ending anytime soon, either, as he's set to reprise his role as the ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. boss in The Marvels and allegedly Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. He'll also finally lead his own MCU production, the Disney+ miniseries Secret Invasion, with Emilia Clarke and Olivia Colman among those joining him.

We've gotten some great work from Samuel L. Jackson over the years, and it's exciting to think about what he'll do next. Let's all be grateful that we've been able to enjoy this acting legend for so long. Also, keep up with latest productions by keeping an eye on CinemaBlend's schedule of 2022 movie releases.

Adreon Patterson
Adreon Patterson

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).