Samuel L. Jackson was tasked with making his character John Shaft in “Shaft” more understanding of gays and women.
A little background on Shaft himself; he’s an older guy who never quite got with the program and in 2019 doesn’t know how to use a computer, threatens to beat up a woman, and makes homophobic jokes throughout the movie.
But that wasn’t gonna fly. In order to make the new Shaft likable, but not lose his essence, Jackson took a few passes at the script and offered up notes to director Tim Story.
“Yes, [Jackson offered] so much, what we did was sat down and read it through with Sam and Sam would say, ‘Hey what if I said this?’ and ‘What if I did this?’ I’m amazed that Sam had so many notes on the millennial angle,” Story tells CNN. “Sam just talks to so many people constantly that he just has all this information.”
There’s a scene in which Jackson’s Shaft visits the well-styled apartment of his long-estranged son JJ, who is an FBI analyst (with nice taste), played by Jesse Usher. Upon seeing the pad, Jackson makes a homophobic joke, but it was his idea to include pushback from Usher telling him he can’t say stuff like that anymore.
“He came up with the whole, we have a scene at Jesse’s apartment, and he says what are you are you cisgender, are you this, are you that and he rattled off all these things that millennials call themselves, and that was him wanting to add all that in,” Story says. “What we also did, and this was on purpose, was to have that millennial in JJ always combat it. We knew that if we were gonna make this an entertaining conversation we couldn’t really hold back. In comedy, if it’s gonna be safe than why do it? We just knew that if Sam was going to be the way he was, say the things he’s gonna say, you listen to his reasoning and you go, I guess it makes sense. But the fact that JJ’s there to say ‘You can’t do that,’ it makes it OK to have the conversation.”
As for his character, Jackson tells CNN that he was trying to find a way to make him cool, but open to learning.
“We have to find ways of allowing people to generationally be themselves,” he says. “There are certain tropes that go along with being who I’ve traditionally been [as Shaft] when I established my character in 2000, 2001. And the only way for that to work honestly is for me to still ask those questions, or say those things and let [Jesse] tell me I can’t say it. Or for me to get ready to pull a gun or hit a woman, he goes ‘You can’t do that.’ For him to tell me I can’t say it means a lot.”
“Shaft” is in theaters now.
(New Line Cinema and Warner Bros., like CNN, are units of WarnerMedia.)