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Samuel L. Jackson

He likes badminton, misses old-school HBCU football, and he’s bringing black history to ‘Tarzan’

Ever since 1988 — when he tried to beast on some Mission College boys in Spike Lee’s classic School DazeSamuel L. Jackson has been blessing us with cinematic greatness. From that aggressive college townie to the masterful Nick Fury to bringing the principled Coach Ken Carter to life, his work is a brilliant thread in the last 30 years of film history. Mo’ Betta Blues, Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Juice, Patriot Games, Menace II Society, Jurassic Park, The Long Kiss Goodnight, several Star Wars projects, Snakes on a Plane and Black Snake Moan, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Soul Men, Django Unchained, Chi-Raq and so many more — by Guinness World Records’ math, this Washington, D.C.-born, Chattanooga, Tennessee-raised Morehouse grad is the highest-grossing actor of all time.

And let’s also be honest: Jackson has given us so many “MF” bombs, too. So many. But Jackson doesn’t have to be profane for the world to pay attention. Case in point? His latest is The Legend of Tarzan, in which he portrays a version of a relatively unknown Civil War soldier and African-American historian George Washington Williams. Jackson shows up later this year in director Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and he’s currently filming xXx: The Return of Xander Cage with Vin Diesel, set for release summer 2017. He’s also a passionate golfer, a huge sports fan (even “odd” sports), plus loves “big” emoji usage — and that’s the truth, Ruth.


Who’s the face of the NBA?

That’s a hard question, really. These days? I guess Steph [Curry] was? Because he’s got that wholesome thing they like so much. The Christian ideal, and a cute little girl, and all that stuff. I think that will change now, though.

You think?

Yeah! Actually, LeBron [James] finally did this thing that makes him [Michael] Jordan-esque. There were a lot of questions about that for a very long time.

Why do you love sports so much?

I’ve always liked competition. I played sports when I was a kid. I like odd sports, in a way. I really love track and field because I used to run hurdles in high school. I like swimming because I was a swimmer at Morehouse. So, I’ll watch any kind of sport. I spent a lot of time watching badminton when I was [filming] in Vietnam.

Really?!

Yeah, really kind of wild. When we were going to work at like 5 in the morning, there were people in the streets that had badminton nets strung across … they played badminton everywhere as we were going to work … there was a lot of it on television. It’s a whole other kind of game, than that thing we play in the backyard. All kind of serious.

What sport do you play now?

Golf. Golf’s the perfect game. I’m an only child, and when you play team sports, when you lose, somebody always blames somebody. It’s like That Guy dropped the ball or you missed the pass or you missed the shot. Golf’s the one game where you’re absolutely responsible for everything that happens. The ball’s sitting there, you have a club in your hand, you have to move that ball a specific distance and a specific direction. If you do it great, you get all the credit. If you do it bad, you get all the credit. Nobody’s playing defense — none of that. It’s just you and the ball.

Describe who you are during football season.

I don’t yell and throw stuff at the TV. Actually, Twitter became a great outlet for me during football season because I can watch games and I can say whatever I want on Twitter, whether I’m a fan of that particular team or not, I can appreciate a great play, I can appreciate a bad play. I can criticize the referees when I think they made a bad call. So, I get to do all those things with an audience and engage people while that’s going on. It’s better than sitting around with my friends and watching the game and making comments, because I can get comments from everywhere.

What is your social media tribe?

I Instagram things, but my account is like a travelogue more than anything else. I have this kind of signature selfie thing that I do where my eye is in the corner of a shot, but I’m taking a picture of the thing that I want them to see … But Twitter’s my active kind of interaction.

Last stamp in your passport?

I just left Sophia, Bulgaria, yesterday. Shooting a movie.

Are you into Vines?

Sometimes, yeah. I like Vines and memes, but I don’t remember them.

What print magazine do you subscribe to?

I subscribe to Hoop. I still like reading about young basketball players who are coming up … I like trying to figure out what the landscape’s going to be … from college to NBA.

What’s your favorite team of all time?

Wow. I’d have to go back through — well, when I was a kid, I used to go to Tennessee State football games, because that was a big event and because I was in band when I was in high school, too.

What did you play?

Trumpet, in marching band. French horn and flute in concert. We used to go to the football games because of the bands. I always thought of Florida A&M [FAMU] as one of my favorite things just because I love the band so much. I love going to [historically black colleges and universities] HBCU games. When we had time to kill, I used to go to Jackson State games, which was awesome because it was always the battle of the bands at halftime. It’s just one of those HBCU things — I love going to those games. I even watch them on ESPN. The games are pretty horrible.

You just watch it for the bands.

All the good brothers go to the other schools now. Back in the day, you know, Grambling, Tennessee State, FAMU, all those schools, that’s where people like Bob Hayes [played] … and I remember Joe Gilliam playing football at Tennessee State. That’s when all the guys … before they could get into those schools … or white schools discovered, ‘Hey, we need these brothers.’ So, now, you know, the football programs have been slightly diluted, but the bands are still great.

What’s your most frequently used emoji?

Um, the red exclamation points.

What is it about that?

Just big. Prominent. I kind of wish the fist was better, but it’s not. They need a better fist.

What’s your current fashion obsession?

Um, same as always [points to shoes]. I wear Stan Smiths more than I wear anything, so I’ve got more different kinds of Stan Smiths than I have anything else.

Where does your courage come from?

What courage? I don’t know … I’m brash in a way, but I don’t know that I’m specifically courageous. I don’t think of it as being courageous. I just think of it as, if I see an injustice, and I can say something about it, I should.

What will you always be a champion of?

Black women.

Why is that?

You guys have it tough. I mean, there’s all kinds of stuff that goes on … and there are various ways of holding you back that people always try to deny. We’ve found a way to get past ageism and race as black men, in a certain way, that black women haven’t been able to do so far, you know? There’s always a caveat or an asterisk about the fact that you did something, that you overcame … or it’s, you know, It’s odd that she could come from this place and get to that. Everybody’s: The playing field’s not level, and, yeah, it is special when something happens, and it’s even more special because little black girls aren’t told that they can do specific things. Guys, even through sports, are told they can achieve or that they can get to this particular place, or make this amount of money because they’re good at doing this particular thing. Little black girls are never told those things. I mean even Serena [Williams], as dominant as she is in her sport, is still not getting paid the way those guys get paid — and she’d probably beat half of them.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment writer at The Undefeated. She can act out every episode of the U.S version of "The Office," she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.