It’s no secret that Lieutenant Colonel Packard, the Vietnam War vet who takes a private gig, leading a unit of military men, many of them to their doom, in “Kong: Skull Island,” was going to be played by J.K. Simmons. But a scheduling conflict put the part in the hands of Samuel L. Jackson, an actor who has proved time and again that if you want someone who can exude confidence, be threatening and, if he chooses, can make you squirm even when there’s a smile on his face, he’s your man. Jackson’s been at this game since the 1970s, first championed by Spike Lee, later having parts created for him by Quentin Tarantino, and in recent years, becoming a well-known member of the Marvel Universe playing Nick Fury. He recently spoke about his part in “Kong” and threw in some tidbits about his career in Los Angeles.
Q: People are always saying how cool it is to work with you and that you’re a legend. What are your thoughts on that?
A: It’s a badge of honor, of sorts. I remember when I first got to Hollywood, meeting specific people that I was overly impressed with. When I first met Sidney Poitier, he sat me down and talked to me and we hung out and played golf. I met Gregory Peck, and felt, “That was awesome!” He called me one day and left a message on my phone and I was like, “Oh, man! It’s Gregory Peck!” I kept that on my message machine for about 3 years and would play it for people. There was a time when you never thought you would meet people like that, legends who didn’t seem touchable. But in today’s world, we’re more accessible. People don’t ask for autographs anymore. They want to take pictures with you, so they can post them.
Q: Do you ever get acting jitters anymore?
A: No. I kind of show up and hope they want me to do what I’ve prepared to do. I guess on the first day you show up on a set, and there are people there that you’ve worked with before, it’s a piece of cake. It’s like you fall back into being with them. But, for instance, when I showed up on the “Miss Peregrine” set, that was different, I’d known (director) Tim Burton for a while, but I’d never worked with him. I admire his movies, and I know there’s a certain kind of movie that he does. So I shaped the performance of that character and I showed up with it. I wanted to make sure that the first thing I did for him was what he wanted. And he was like (he starts clapping his hands) ... so I knew, cool, I can go out and do my thing.
Q: When did you first see the original “King Kong?”
A: I probably saw it on television when I was a kid. I was knocked out by movies. Movies always did that to me. I was trying to grow up and be Errol Flynn at one point. I wanted to jump from ship to ship, with a sword in my teeth. I saw “King Kong,” “Godzilla,” “Mothra,” all of those, to the point where when things like this movie come across my desk, it’s a no-brainer. Somebody said to me. “There’s a movie called ‘Skull Island’.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “It’s a ‘King Kong’ movie.” I said, “OK, I’m in.”
Q: Why do you think your character hates Kong so much? It seems to be more than just the fact that he killed a lot of your men.
A: There is a revenge factor. There is the Ahab ideal in that character of him and the white whale. Kong has killed all these men of mine, and I want to exact some revenge. But there’s also the basic tenet that man is stronger than anything on this planet. We’ve been here forever and there’s always been things bigger, stronger, and faster than us. But we have ingenuity; we’ve figured out how to survive. And even though you’re telling me Kong is the only thing standing between us and those other things (on the island) that are going to kill us, once we kill him, then we’ll get to those things, too. Because that’s who we are.
Q: You mentioned that you were always knocked out by movies. Do you still go regularly?
A: I watch a wide array of things on television. I’m a TV junkie and a movie junkie and a book junkie. There’s a market for everything, and people have been shouting about the death of movies for a long time. Since the advent of tape. When tape showed up, it was like oh, people are gonna stop going to movies and they’re gonna stay home and watch tapes. But no! People like going into that big, dark room together, having that shared experience. Maybe they don’t go to all of them, but there’s some movie, all the time, that you want to go watch with some other people, and gasp or laugh or cry together.
Q: Do you think there’s a stand-alone Nick Fury movie in the cards for you?
A: I’m always open, always game. I’d love to do a Nick Fury movie. But I’m doing “The Incredibles 2,” and I’ve got “Avengers: Infinity War.” I’m supposed to do “The Blob” soon,” and after that, there’s “Captain Marvel,” and maybe Nick Fury will be part of that.
Q: Do you still want to do a movie where you have a knife in your teeth and jump from ship to ship?
A: Oh, yeah. I’d be down with that!
“Kong: Skull Island” opens on March 10.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.