When Samuel L. Jackson popped up, post-credits, in 2008's "Iron Man," it was a startling cameo, especially for fans of the comic, who recognized that Nick Fury, the war-hardened taskmaster, was modeled after Jackson for the "Ultimates" comic book line. But few could have imagined that that moment, which promised the reveal of a much larger universe, would have yielded the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a 10-year, 20+ movie experiment that has reshaped the moviegoing landscape. Through it all, Jackson has been a constant, and a harbinger of very big things (he assembled the Avengers and uncovered the plot to destroy SHIELD, amongst other things). And nothing is quite as big as the introduction, this week, of "Captain Marvel," the studio's first female-led movie and their first set in the 1990s.
For Jackson, he got to don a younger look (aided by some cutting-edge technology) and reunite with his BFF Brie Larson, who plays Captain Marvel and who starred with Jackson in "Kong: Skull Island" (she also directed him in her filmmaking debut, "Unicorn Store," set to debut on Netflix later this year). Jackson is amazing in the film, showcasing a different side of Fury, and his chemistry with Larson is totally effervescent.
We got to sit down with Jackson and talk about his more notable 90s action movie roles, what it was like getting digitally de-aged and what he knows about "Avengers: Endgame."
Moviefone: This is very much a 90s-set buddy action movie and you made some great buddy action movies in the 90s.
I wanted to ask you about "Die Hard with a Vengeance." What was that experience like for you?
It was pretty great. I was going another movie in New York. I was doing "Kiss of Death" and I had auditioned for "Waterworld." So I was waiting on an answer on whether I was going to be in "Waterworld."
What character was it in "Waterworld?"
Whatever character it was, Fishburne got the job. And he was supposed to do "Die Hard," and they came to me the other day and said, "Well okay, you're not going to be in 'Waterworld' but want to be in 'Die Hard?'" I was like, "You mean like 'Die Hard' 'Die Hard?'" They said, "Yes, we're making a new 'Die Hard.'" YES! Because I had always coveted … My friend Reggie was the cop outside Nakatomi Plaza. I remember thinking, How'd Reggie get that job? I don't even remember them auditioning people. So I was like, "Hell yeah, I'll go hang out with Bruce Willis." I got the "Simon Says" script then.
Yeah, because it wasn't a "Die Hard" movie, right?
Yeah, it wasn't "Die Hard" yet, it was "Simon Says." The rest is kind of how it happens.
So your character was in the earlier version?
Oh yeah. Always. Zeus was always there. He was the guy who could answer the riddles.
How has working with John McTiernan?
McT was great. In the beginning, we didn't really have a real structure other than Bruce was uptown and he had that sign on and we had to figure out a way to get from 160-something street down to the 70-something street. They get to the first riddle or whatever it was. And we would go to Bruce's trailer and John would say, "Okay, I want to go 15 blocks today. So in order to get 15 blocks, Bruce, what are you going to say?" And Bruce would say, "Well, I can say …" And I would say, "Well, if he says that I answered …" And they write it down, write it down, write it down, and we go, "Okay, great, let's go!" and we'd go shoot him. So we did that for about 60 blocks. It was great.
Another great 90s buddy action movie you made was "The Long Kiss Goodnight," which you say was your favorite character you ever played. Why is that?
He had a lot of heart. He's kind of bumbling but wry and a perfect foil for who Geena was. Her being such a bad ass and him, you know, him not being such a bad ass. So it's kind of perfect. And we had a really great relationship. We spent a lot of time in the car, like, you know, like Brie and I do it in this movie. It's a road movie. Yeah.
When you did that first cameo in "Iron Man," did you have any idea that this was going to be such a huge part of your career and life after that?
Well I knew I'd signed a nine-picture deal.
You made that deal before you shot the "Iron Man" scene?
It kind of happened while I was doing it. When they asked me to do it, they said it to me. I figured, I guess what I did that we we'd be getting to the ninth picture about now. It used to take a little longer to make a movie. It takes a little longer to have an idea and I didn't realize the universe was going to expand in the way that it expanded and I would be required to do specific things to connect stories on a specific kind the way. So I knew it was going to be big, but I just didn't know it was going to advance as quickly.
What was your response when they said, "This is going to be a prequel, we're going to meet Nick Fury with both eyes as a young shield agent?"
I don't think anybody said it was a prequel, they just said, "It's just a younger Nick Fury with two eyes." It's not really an origin story because there's a lot missing. I mean you meet him kind of post-war, post-shadow world spy stuff. I guess it's the Cold War and now he's stuck on a desk. And you finally get something interesting to do. So this the awakening of nuclear more than anything else. Because she's just first extraterrestrial and he finds out, oh okay, there's things from somewhere else. And in his mind being Nick Fury, he probably realized, You know, the people I worked for probably know though, he never said anything and they've been holding out on me. So now I've got to figure out a way to make the battlefield even but I don't think I'm going to tell them about this either. That's the beginning of his plot.
Did they explain that kind of technical side of this performance to you when you signed on? In terms of the DA aging and, and all of that?
Yeah. I had nothing to do with that. All I had to do is show up for work and they put dots on my face. And I'm fortunate enough that I had a couple of films from the 90s that they reference.
Did they tell you what they were referencing?
They looked at a lot of different things. I think they settled on Danny Roman from "The Negotiator."
Can you talk about your relationship with Brie, because you've co-starred with her, you've been directed by her and then you're in this together.
Well for some reason, you know, we great friends almost immediately. Part of it was the difficulty of shooting a film like "Kong" on those remote locations and having to be out in the wild with no cell phone reception. So people don't get a chance to disconnect when somebody said cut. We got to be together, fighting off bugs get, some water, kind of trying to try to stay warm or cold or warm up, whatever's going on. And the trials and tribulations of that being able to find a way to laugh together while you're out there to make it not seem so miserable.
And then joining forces with her on her directorial debut after kind of tricking her into casting me. Because I knew she had written this script and she wanted to have somebody else. So I kind of gave her a whole bunch of shit about it. You know, "So you really think that guy is better than me and you don't want me in your movie?" She said it was because "I didn't want you to say no." It was like, "Your never asked me, you never gave me a chance to say no. But now I'm saying no, I don't want to do your movie." And then she's like, "Please Sam!" So I ended up doing it and a great experience. It brought us closer together. We were together a lot more. We learned to have this little banter and we have a very easy way with each other and our level of professionalism is almost the same. We're very, very well prepared to show up the next day and do what we're supposed to do and try to do it as efficiently as well as possibly can. We have mutual respect and joy for being in that together and looking at each other and laugh when we're done doing the scene.
Did you ever take her under your wing and your wing and say, "Listen, your life is going to get a lot more complicated?"
I don't have a wing, but you I was just trying to say to her that, you know, this thing is different than any other thing that you've done. There are levels of popularity. Yes. But now you're moving into, you know, where people are going to put you on a religious sort of a pedestal that is reserved for characters in "Star Wars" and the Marvel Universe. It's one thing to say it and to intellectualize it and understand it, but it's not going to strike on until the film actually gets out there to the masses. When I saw the film the other day, I really think I underestimated what I told her, because of the resonance of what happens in this film that hasn't happened in a whole bunch of other movies. It's easy to like Tony Stark, it's easy to like Thor. But when you do a character like she did this one that so many young girls and women can look at it and go, "Oh, I want to do that. I've been knocked down eight times and got up nine. I had to do it. I played that. I succeeded in a male-dominated world."
Before she becomes Captain Marvel and when she starts to rediscover who she is, realizing I accomplished some things, I was a formidable woman before these people gave me these powers and they claim that they we made you." I'm not, I am someone that will self-made already. And the relationship she has with Maria, the best friend who went through the same thing and the closeness and support that they give each other through that trial is very resonant for a lot of women that are going to watch this film too. And a little girl who tells them, "You're my role model and if you don't do something special, then I don't have to aspire to something special, but I want to be special. So go out there and be special."
It's like, oh, there's a whole 'nother thing that she's got going on. She's going to be on posters on little girls' walls off and they're going to want to wear this costume to school.
With "Endgame" coming up, how much do they tell you about the future of the MCU?
I mean I have no idea what's going on in "Endgame." I'm like everybody else waiting on it to happen.
"Captain Marvel" opens across the galaxy on Friday.
Captain Marvel is an extraterrestrial Kree warrior who finds herself caught in the middle of an intergalactic battle between her people and the Skrulls. Living on Earth in 1995, she keeps having recurring memories of another life as U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With help from Nick Fury, Captain Marvel tries to uncover the secrets of her past while harnessing her special superpowers to end the war with the evil Skrulls. Read More