The rise and rise of a superstar, from his days as a stand-in for Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show, to his infamous portrayal of a Bible-quoting hitman in Tarantino's cult classic Pulp Fiction.
The King of Cool was an only child. His father, an alcoholic, lived away in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, Elizabeth, took the young Jackson to live with her parents and the rest of her family, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Jackson attended Riverside High School (now Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences). It was here that his interest in music began and the young Jackson played the trumpet and the horn in the school orchestra.
Following school, Jackson studied for a degree in Dramatic Arts at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Whilst still a student, he co-founded the Just Us Theatre, part of the Atlanta-based non-profit Theatre of the Stars; and made his film debut as Stan in Michael Schultz’s drama ‘Together for Days’ (1972), set in the racially-charged atmosphere of early 1970s America.
Following his graduation from Morehouse in 1972, Jackson’s acting career began in earnest. He performed in numerous theatre productions, including ‘Home’, ‘A Soldier’s Play’, and ‘Sally/Prince and the District Line’. He performed roles in August Wilson’s plays for the Yale Repertory Theatre and appeared in the New York Shakespeare Theatre productions of ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’, ‘Spell #7’, and ‘The Mighty Gents’.
Between 1972 and 1989, Jackson also performed in various films, including ‘Eddie Murphy Raw’ (1987) and ‘Coming to America’ (1988); television movies, including ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ (1987) and ‘Dead Man Out’ (1989); and appeared in episodes of television shows including ‘Spenser: for Hire’ (1986-1987) and ‘A Man Called Hawk’ (1989). In 1980 Samuel married LaTanya Richardson, whom he met whilst he was at Morehouse College and she was studying at Spellman College. The couple are still together, live in Los Angeles and have a daughter, Zoe (born 1982), who studied at the Culinary Institute of Vassar College, New York.
It was the early 1990s that saw Jackson truly rise to fame, when he made movie history by being awarded the first, and only, NYFCC Award for Best Supporting Actor ever given by the judges at the Cannes Film Festival. It was for his portrayal of crack addict, Flipper Purify, in Spike Lee’s romantic drama, ‘Jungle Fever’ (1991). Since then, there has been no stopping one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood.
Jackson was cast as the bad guy in several films, including ‘Jumpin’ at the Boneyard’ (1992), a drama about a crack addict, and ‘Juice’ (1992), set in the ghettos of Harlem. During this period he also appeared in ‘Patriot Games’ (1992), a CIA/IRA crime thriller starring Harrison Ford and Anne Archer. He then moved on to sci-fi adventure, as Ray Arnold in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993); and comedy crime caper, as Sgt. Wes Luger in ‘National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1’ (1993), with Emilio Estevez.
Jackson first worked with director Quentin Tarantino when he was cast as Big Don alongside Patricia Arquette, Christian Slater, Val Kilmer, Dennis Hopper and Gary Oldman in ‘True Romance’ (1993). The following year he starred as Jules Winnfield, with John Travolta and Uma Thurman, in Tarantino’s cult classic ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994). For this role, Jackson was nominated for an Oscar and received the 1995 BAFTA Film Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He also starred in John Frankenheimer’s Emmy Award-winning ‘Against the Wall’ (1994) for HBO television, for which he won a Cable Ace nomination as Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries, as well as a Golden Globe nomination.
Playing action hero roles, Jackson starred opposite Bruce Willis in ‘Die Hard: With a Vengeance’ (1995), also known as ‘Die Hard 3’, which was that year’s top-grossing film internationally; and was action hero Mitch Henessey, opposite Geena Davis, in ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ (1996). He starred opposite Kevin Spacey, Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock in Joel Schumacher’s film ‘A Time to Kill’ (1996), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.
Making his debut as producer on ‘Eve’s Bayou’ (1997), a moving drama set in 1962 Louisiana, directed by Kasi Lemmons, Jackson also starred as Louis Batiste. Amongst numerous other awards and nominations, the film was acknowledged at the 1998 Black Film Awards, with Jackson winning Best Actor, Lemmons winning Best Director, and the film receiving a nomination for Best Soundtrack. In his second film directed by Tarantino, Jackson starred as Ordell Robbie in ‘Jackie Brown’ (1997), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination and the Silver Bear Award for Best Actor in a Comedy at the Berlin Film Festival.
The late 1990s found Jackson in varied roles, including Barry Levinson’s sci-fi thriller ‘Sphere’ (1998); Chicago crime drama ‘The Negotiator’ (1998) with Kevin Spacey; ‘Le Violon Rouge’ (1998), a French romance, for which he provided voice for the English version; ‘The Red Violin’; ‘Deep Blue Sea’ (1999); and George Lucas’ blockbuster ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’ (1999), in which he made a cameo appearance as Mace Windu. It was a role he was to reprise in ‘Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones’ (2002) and in ‘Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith’ (2005).
The New Millennium found Jackson continuing from strength to strength and working as hard as ever. In 2000, he starred with Bruce Willis and Robin Wright Penn in M. Night Shyamalan’s fantasy thriller for Disney, ‘Unbreakable’; was Col. Terry Childers in courtroom drama ‘Rules of Engagement’; and played the title role, opposite Christian Bale and Vanessa Williams, in ‘Shaft’. The latter two films were screened at the 2000 Deauville Film Festival, where Jackson was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his second project with Kasi Lemmons, Jackson was executive producer and starred in ‘The Caveman’s Valentine’ (2001), about a homeless man in New York City who discovers a murder. It was the most successful independent film of the year. He played the streetwise chemist, Elmo McElroy, in crime thriller ‘The 51st State’ (2001), with Robert Carlyle; and co-starred with Ben Affleck in the acclaimed ‘Changing Lanes’ (2002), in which he played a more sensitive character in his role as a father fighting for custody of his children.
Jackson played Agent Augustus Gibbons in Rob Cohen’s award-winning action thriller ‘xXx’ (2002) and the sequel ‘xXx: State of the Union’ (2005). His co-stars in ‘S.W.A.T.’ (2004) were Colin Farrell and LL Cool J. Tarantino then cast Jackson as Rufus in ‘Kill Bill: Vol. 2’ (2004), with Uma Thurman. He provided the voice of Frozone in the animated adventure ‘The Incredibles’ (2004), for which he won a BET Comedy Award for Best Performance in an Animated Theatrical Film. John Boorman’s ‘Country of My Skull’ (also known as ‘In My Country’) (2004) was based on the best-selling novel by South African author Antije Krog. Jackson played the role of an American reporter in post-apartheid South Africa, with co-star Juliette Binoche.
In ‘Coach Carter’ (2005), he portrayed a high school basketball coach and won an Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. The film was screened at the opening night of the Palm Springs Film Festival and on its closing night, Jackson received the Career Achievement Award for Acting.
Starring as Lazarus, a God-fearing blues man in ‘Black Snake Moan’ (2006), a romantic drama with Justin Timberlake and Chirstina Ricci, Jackson also showed his musical talent by performing the tracks ‘Just Like a Bird Without a Feather’, ‘Catfish Blues’, ‘Catfish Medley’, ‘Alice May’ and ‘Stackolee’ for the film’s soundtrack. He was FBI agent Neville Flynn in action adventure ‘Snakes on a Plane’ (2006); and Will Marsh in ‘Home of the Brave’ (2006) about three American soldiers struggling to readjust to life after returning from Iraq.
Having provided voice for the English version of television miniseries ‘Afro Samurai’ (2007), Jackson has many film projects in the pipeline. In 2007 he starred in ‘Resurrecting the Champ’, about a homeless boxing legend; ‘1408’, a horror with John Cusack and Mary McCormack; and ‘Cleaner’, a crime thriller with Eva Mendes and Ed Harris. Then in 2008 he appeared in ‘Jumper’, ‘Lakeview Terrace’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘The Spirit’, and ‘Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey’, a sci-fi animation with John Travolta and Christian Slater.
In more recent years he has become most famous for starring in the iconic role of Nick Fury for Marvel - he has appeared as this character in seven films (such as 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011) and 'The Avengers' (2012)) and also on TV in 'Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D'.
The actor has a keen interest in sports. He is an avid basketball fan, with his favourite teams being the legendary Harlem Globetrotters and the Toronto Raptors. He also became a fan of Liverpool Football Club after the filming of ‘The 51st State’ in the English city. He enjoys playing golf and is constantly improving his game. Jackson has said that if he had to choose a career other than acting, it would be to be golfing on the PGA circuit, claiming it is the only place he can “go dressed as a pimp and fit in perfectly”. He even has a clause in his film contracts allowing him to play golf twice weekly during filming.
This man, who has always had acting in his soul, has graced our screens with brilliant, if slightly offbeat, character portrayals, and shown a versatility and insight in his performances that is entirely individual. Whilst approaching his 66th birthday (2014), Jackson is showing no signs of slowing down, much to his fans continued delight.