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Trading in Shaft's gun for caveman's muse

Samuel L. Jackson
"Doing this job is all about exploring the human condition in as many different ways as you can," Jackson said  

Samuel L. Jackson not caving in to star pressure

March 1, 2001
Web posted at: 1:27 p.m. EST (1827 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Samuel L. Jackson became a household name after his portrayal of Jules, a philosophizing hitman in 1994's "Pulp Fiction." He walked away with Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, plus a best supporting actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - not to mention winning critical acclaim all around.

He starred in last year's "Shaft," but also made his mark with recent performances in "The Negotiator" (1998), "Eve's Bayou" (1997) and "Jackie Brown" (1997).

CNN's Michael Okwu talks with the star of 'The Caveman's Valentine'

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Trailer for 'The Caveman's Valentine'

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A plodding madman, a maddening plot


He stars next in "The Caveman's Valentine," debuting Thursday. He plays a homeless, mentally ill musical genius who lives in a cave and gets drawn into a murder investigation. The book, by George Dawes Green, won the Edgar Award as the best mystery published in the United States in 1994.

Jackson recently talked with CNN about his latest role, the craft he loves and his determination to remain an actor -- not just a movie star.

CNN: How would you describe your character and the film?

Samuel L. Jackson: You basically have a homeless paranoid schizophrenic detective. ... It's a whole new thing.

CNN: What was your feeling when you read the book from which this film was adapted?

Jackson: Oh, I thought it was very cinematic. It's a great story of a guy surviving and being who he wants to be and still having people supporting him as that.

CNN: What is it about offbeat characters you like so much? Is Samuel L. Jackson a little offbeat himself?

Jackson: I don't think so. I think I'm pretty mainstream. That's what makes me want to do characters that have edges, or that have different agendas than mine. Doing this job is all about exploring the human condition in as many different ways as you can. ... Everybody has a diffrent story and you just try to find a way to make an audience understand it.

CNN: You had to strike a balance portraying this character, a mentally unbalanced musical genius. Was that difficult?

Jackson: Yeah. Being able to find something that I could hold onto that would give me a consistency throughout the film (was difficult), because it's easy to go too far one way and too far another way.

CNN: Do you ever still get nervous before tackling a role?

Jackson: No.

CNN: You're a very confident actor.

Jackson: Yeah. A lot of actors get thrown by thinking there's a right and wrong. If you have the freedom to create something then you have the freedom to be who you want to be and make that happen.

CNN: How would you describe yourself as an actor?

Jackson: I'm a very studied actor. I'm a very prepared actor and I'm a very experienced actor -- not just because of what I've done on stage, but in life.

In "The Caveman's Valentine," Jackson plays Romulus Ledbetter, a homeless, mentally ill musical genius who gets drawn into a murder investigation  

CNN: Some actors complain that some of their successful peers have become movie stars and are no longer actors. Does that worry you?

Jackson: No. ...I hear about it a lot because there are times when I want to do things, and my managers will say, "Movie stars don't do that," and I'll (say), "What's your point? ... I'm not."

CNN: But you are a movie star.

Jackson: I do movies, ... (and) that makes me a movie star, but I don't see myself as Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise -- guys that put $20 million (worth) of butts in the seats every time they do a movie. ... That's a movie star. And it's hard for an audience to look at them and separate them from the characters they're playing. ...They know nothing's going to happen to them because it's that guy. I'm still the guy who can be in a movie and die at any moment. Those are the choices I make.

I want to be that unpredictable to an audience, so I'm still an actor. I still think like a character actor. I can open a script and flip through it saying, "Do I die? Do I die? Do I die? Ah ... OK."

That's a major concern to me. People need to do that to keep audiences on their toes. Make a cameo in movie here, make a cameo in a movie there, and don't even say that you're in it. Just go about your business.

'The Caveman's Valentine' official site

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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