Seventy Years of Samuel L. Jackson

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Samuel L. Jackson in the movie, Rules of Engagement

Yinka Olatunbosun pays tribute to the legend of the screen, Samuel Leroy Jackson, the highest all-time box office star, who turns 70 today

Blame it on the roles he is cast for, his name is synonymous with vengeance, justice and anger. Like many in the acting business, Samuel L. Jackson sharpened his skills at the theatre- “Just Us Theatre’’ which he co-founded as a student at Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in a racially segregated America, attending segregated schools. He played several musical instruments including the French horn, trumpet and flute.

After the assassination of one of the leaders in the civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Jackson was buoyed by the desire to affirm his humanity. Hence, he joined equal rights protest, engaged in activism at the college to demand for a reform in the school’s curriculum and governance. He faced charges for unlawful confinement- a felony and was later suspended for two years due to the criminal records. He returned to the college to earn his Bachelor of Arts in Drama in 1972.

His stint with stage drama includes performing in plays such as The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running while his early years in film was characterised by minimal roles such as Coming to America. He was mentored by Morgan Freeman and in the early 80s, he was introduced to Spike Lee, a famed film director.

The 90s were marked by his battle against drug dependency, as he overdosed on heroine repeatedly and eventually, substituted it with cocaine. After checking into a New York rehabilitation clinic, he worked on several film projects such as the Jurassic Park and Pulp Fiction which generated international reception, critical reviews, awards and nominations.

His status as the king of villainy grew with movies such as Die Hard with a Vengeance and a movie based on John Grisham’s Bestseller, A Time to Kill wherein he took the role of a father who is put on trial for killing two men who raped his daughter. With this, he earned a Golden Globe nomination for a Best Supporting Actor.

In the movie, Changing Lanes, he acted as a recovering alcoholic, determined to win the custody of his children and the battle of wits with co-actor, Ben Affleck who bashed his car while on the way to the family court. Through, his central character in The Rules of Engagement, the court-martial questions the use of judgment after his orders led to the killings of civilians outside the US embassy in Yemen. The movie is a juxtapose of logic against sentiments. He had co-starred with the “bad boys of Hollywood’’ such as Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Ice Cube, amongst others. From Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones to Coach Carter, Jackson is comfortable with oscillating from a high voltage character to a mild but tough one.

Married to actress, LaTanya Richardson with whom he has a daughter, Jackson’s roles seem to draw a lot from his personal experiences. Emotional recall provides him with the reservoir of a wide-range of motions to tap from when interpreting his roles. A good lesson from his life story is that he made a good comeback from his drug battles, and for a man who is always angry in movies, his deep sense of loyalty to his wife in real life is a charm. He has inspired many and is tipped to have a role in the upcoming movie, Captain Marvel. Samuel L. Jackson’s net worth is $220million.