Samuel L. Jackson is lounging in a booth at the Gallow Green restaurant at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City. His e-cigarette is resting on the table and he's leaning back with one knee up, like a calm, cool, modern reimagining of a renaissance painting. But in reality, he's pretty exhausted.
He began the press rounds with the rest of the cast of "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" around 6 a.m. ET to hit up "Good Morning America," followed by press interview after press interview after press interview. By the time he gets to me, he's still in good spirits. When you're someone who's been working in Hollywood for as long as he has, you get used to it.
In addition to discussing the Tim Burton film, getting used to his prosthetics while filming "The Hateful Eight," and why he doesn't have a director wish list, he offered his thoughts on where Nick Fury was during "Captain America: Civil War."
Moviefone: How's your day going so far?
Samuel L. Jackson: Long!
That's what I heard. Did you also go on "Good Morning America" this morning?
God bless you.
Yeah. It's been one of those days.
I had one opportunity to go see "Good Morning America," and I couldn't.
I'm not technically alive before 8 a.m.
Well, fortunately for us, show's like that are okay 'cause we go to work this time of day, anyway. It's actually a late start. I'm used to getting picked up at 5:30 [a.m.] and you're on set by 6 and in make-up by 6:30, and it's like, uuuugh. So, I try and keep my schedule that way when I'm off, so when I'm not working I play golf with my friends at like 6:30.
6:30 in the morning?
Do these get easier the more that you do them? Like, the junkets?
It's part of work. You know? It's what you have to do to get the movie out there. I'm adjusted to it. I'm good with it.
So, this is your first film with Tim Burton, right?
Was he always on your director wish list?
I don't have one of those. People ask me that all the time. You know, "Who do you wanna work with?" Whoever wants me. So, that's how it happens. I think the only time I ever answered that question and it kinda happened was when I heard George was doing "Star Wars" and I was like, "Yeah, I wanna work with George Lucas. I heard he was doing "Star Wars" again." Boom! There I was. So other than that, no, I don't have that list. I'm always surprised sometimes when I get a call from somebody who goes, "Yeah, so and so wants to know your availability."
I think that's a pretty solid place to be career wise. It's always the other way around. What was your first impression of him as a director?
I'd just come from doing "Hateful Eight" when I got to him, so I'm used to being on set with someone who's pretty sure and confidant about what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, and I get there [to "Miss Peregrine"] and it's the same thing. And his cinematic sense is almost the same as Quentin [Tarantino]. He knows what shots he wants to do and he knows how he wants to do them, and he gives you a scenario and asks you to fill that space in whatever way you want to fill it.
So when I do my first rehearsal, he looks at it and goes, "Oh my god, I love that direction. Can you go further that way?" And I'm like, "Hmm. Really? Oh. Fine. Yeah, let's go further that way." And then when you do something that he really, really likes, it's an amazing transformation of somebody's who's clapping his hands and going, "Oh, that was amazing! That was amazing! Do you wanna do another one?"
"Only if you want to. Do you want me to do another one?"
"No, that was fine!"
"Oh, really? Okay, let's go then." So, it's wonderful that way.
Do you have a specific example of when he was like, "Yeah!"
Well, when you were first talking to him about the project, did you have a script or anything you were going off of, or was it mostly discussing?
No, I got a script. I was shooting "Hateful Eight." I was, I guess, the last three weeks or so of "Hateful Eight" when I got a call that he wanted me and then they sent me the script, and I got the book and I read it. I read the source material and I compared it to the script, and it was close enough that I figured out how I could fill in the blanks for myself and figure out what I wanted to do, and Tim sent me a rendering of what the character looked like, so I had that in my head: the hair, and the eyes, and the teeth. And I asked them for the teeth, and they sent me the teeth so I could practice my elocution: "the teeth, the lips, the tip of the tongue."
That is the exact exercise I used to do.
Everybody does. And you go through the alphabet -- A, E, I, O, U, Ba, Be, Bi, Bo, Bu, Da, De, Di, Do, Du -- with the teeth in. So, I was doing that, and by the time I got there [to the set] I was pretty comfortable with talking with the teeth. The only challenge was the contacts.
I imagine walking around with those teeth in, I'd have some fun with that. Did you freak anybody out or prank anybody with them.
No, not really. On the "Hateful Eight" set I did 'cause they weren't used to them, so when I put them in and I was all bloody, I'd kind of look at somebody and I'd talk to them and they'd go, "Oh my god!" It was kind of fun doing that.
What do you think was the one or two elements that really sold you on this project?
Well, I was sold when they said Tim Burton. There was nothing else for me to think about. I watched enough of his movies and fallen in love with the worlds that he's created, and it was kind of a no-brainer. Just show up and do it.
Were there any special effects that you were surprised weren't computer generated, or sets even?
Not really 'cause I hadn't thought about it. I knew that when I got -- my first location was Blackpool and the circus and the bottom of Blackpool Tower, which is a real circus for a while. They used to bring elephants in there on their knees.
Yeah, it's that kind of place. And Blackpool itself has this really bizarre air to it. So the whole setting and the whole thing was so kind of, you know, "Oh my god, this is so Tim Burton" 'cause this place is always windy, it rains sideways at least three hours a day, the sea was kind of brown, and some days it'd be all the way up to the shore, and some days you'd look out there and you'd see people walking like a mile out 'cause the tide had gone out that far. And it was an amusement park-resort town for middle-to-lower income people to vacation.
That's like "American Horror Story."
Yeah, and every weekend there were bridal parties. You know, girls on their last fling and then bachelor parties, guys on their last fling in costume, drunk, roaming the city. So, it was like, "Oh my god, what is this?" So it was a Tim Burton movie.
One of my favorite things to pick out in the film were some movie references. Like, the skeleton scene was very "Jason and the Argonauts."
Oh, yeah, yeah. Very much so, yeah.
And then when you were hacking that door down, you have your "Shining" moment.
Yeah, my "Shining" moment. Yeah.
Were there any other movie references that you can think of?
Yeah, I didn't think of it that way. I'm sure there are others. When I was stuck against that wall, being blown against that wall, I've seen that somewhere, I just can't picture in my head what movie that is -- or, it's sort of like, what is that movie? "The Bear," when the bear was growling right in that guy's face and you can see the guy's face shaking when the bear is like, "Rawr!" Like that.
Was there any sort of -- I mean the whole film is pretty fantastical -- but is there any scene or one day you'll always remember from the set?
I mean, not standing out like that, there was this one scene that we shot that's not in the film that was a pretty fun day for me because it was just me and the kids in the circus, and them kind of attacking me in these very interesting and bizarre ways. So, I had a great time with them that day, you know, just being that guy who was Mr. Barron, who was sort of like, "Oh, kids, kids, go away, go away, stop, stop, stop." And the kids finally annoy you to the point where you want to send them home and it's like "Stop it!" And they all just like fled because they know, okay, we've gone too far. So, it's kind of great.
What were your conversations like with Tim about Barron? Because I don't believe he's in the book.
You know, he's an amalgam of a couple of different people: the shrink, the old man in the neighborhood, a couple other folks. So, for me, talking to Tim about him, having him look so frightening was one thing, and understanding he was a scientist who had an experiment go badly wrong which changed his friends in the ways that they've been changed. Everybody was a Hollow at some point, and I conducted another experiment that got us from that point to this sort of sub-human place where we are now, except for the eyes and the teeth and whatever.
And he's still trying to find a way to get everybody all the way back to their human nature, but he's also still trying to locate a way to become immortal, so for him to look that way, even though he's a shapeshifter, it was incumbent upon me to sort of play with his humanity in an interesting sort of way, to make him as affable as possible when possible, to use his rye sense of humor as much as I could to make him ingratiating to the people who were looking at him and might be afraid and kind of put him off guard until that monster came out. So, we had talks about that, and Tim enjoying the fact that I could find the humor in this guy and bring it out.
Now, before I'm really kicked out of here, have you gotten the call to return as Nick Fury? I'm sure you get this question all the time.
Are you already allowed to say which film you'll appear in next for Marvel?
The next one they're shooting. The "Avengers: [Infinity War]."
Based on your own guess, where do you think Nick Fury was hanging out while the whole "Civil War" business was going on?
... Tryin' to figure out what the hell is going on with S.H.I.E.L.D.