Monday, February 6, 2012

Don't Move Next Door to Samuel L. Jackson

Find Lakeview Terrace on Video

Don't Move Next Door to Samuel L. Jackson

(From brinkzine.com 9/17/08)

SAMUELJACKSONINTRUCK.jpg Young newlyweds Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) think they've found the perfect house in the ideal neighborhood when the move onto "Lakeview Terrace," a cul-de-sac in a middle-class section of Los Angeles. And they think it might be comforting to be living next door to a policeman with two children. But the African-American Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson), an authoritarian widower with a lot of issues and a shaky job situation, makes their life miserable in an attempt to force them to move. He resents that they are an interracial couple and believes they are a bad influence on his kids. Director Neil LeBute makes films and writes uncomfortable and controversial plays about "escalation," with things going from bad to much worse, and in this instance, verbal sparring between the neighbors escalates into full-fledged warfare, Chris, who'd rather confront his neighbor than talk to Lisa about her desire to start a family, happily gets down in the mud with Abel, bambino a bambino. Still you have to admire him a little for not backing off because bad guys played by Samuel L. Jackson are invariably creepy and intimidating. Fortunately, in person, Jackson is extremely approachable. He was promoting the film on Monday in anticipation of its Friday release. I was part of the following roundtable and note my questions.
Q: What is it about this character Abel that made you say you had to play him?
Samuel L. Jackson: I'm always looking for acting challenges or the chance to explore emotions that I don't have myself or situations that are far removed from what I'm doing. He is very different from who I am. Abel is pretty much as far away from me as I can get.
Danny Peary: What does your character think of himself? Does he like himself?
Samuel L. Jackson: I think Abel is comfortable with who he is and where he is. He's trying to figure out how to navigate raising his teenage daughter because she's raising questions with him like most teenage girls do. He's okay with himself because his opinion is informed by what he does day to day. He'd dealing with bad people mostly and because of that I think he pretty much thinks the worst of the majority of people he encounters. He thinks the worst first. He does have a specific idea of what he wants his community to be and a specific idea of how he wants to raise his kids. This young couple moves in and it's not immediately a black-and-white thing, but he's thinking, "This is an influence I'm not sure I want my kids to have." He's sees this woman working at home who is kind of cute and kind of brassy and he's not sure he wants his daughter influenced by her. So he definitely has an opinion about who they are before he knows anything about them.
DP: That all sounds like you think only in a positive way about him.
SJ: I was hoping to craft a character who at times you say to yourself that you understand how he feels, but then you'll see him a little closer and you'll feel kind of creepy and say, "Well, wow, maybe not." It's hard to draw conclusions because Abel smiles a lot when he says bad things.
DP: Was Abel different before his wife got killed?
SJ: I think he was. I think he was a very different individual. I think his home was more stable and he didn't have to be as strict with the kids. I think he had an outlet for his emotions and someone to talk to who wasn't another cop about what was going on in his life and the people around him. And he wouldn't have had the resentment he had after she died. It's not a sure thing that Abel's wife was doing something wrong the day she was killed. He was just suspicious because she was in a white section of town with her white boss. The unfortunate thing is that she did die on a gurney in a hospital in a predominantly white are hospital when they let her lie there. That's part of his anger also.
Q: Did you use your artistic license to change things in the script?
SJ: In the original script Abel as an out-and-out crazy, racist mad dog. His wife was still alive in that script, he is kind of abusive, and there is all kind of stuff going on. It was too easy to hate him. Neil LaBute came in and we started the rehearsal period and started to craft the movie to what you see. We killed off his wife and had Abel be alone in the house raising two kids. We tried to figure out why he was so angry at his neighbors. The original script had Abel having a white father who abandoned his mother. Yuck.
Q: Abel corrects his daughter's grammar.
SJ: A lot. I have some real issues of people on television speaking bad English. I have a daughter and I understand that dynamic of daughters asserting themselves in a certain kind of way. They say, "It's so unfair" because you're saying no to them. The important thing is tell them is that life is unfair but there are things you can do to navigate through it. When Abel's daughter is next door with Lisa without his permission I got that. The hardest thing for me to do in the film was hit that little girl for talking back. I never hit my daughter. Then again I grew up with corporal punishment in Chattanooga and got hit a lot, so I "get it."
Q: Were you able to draw on your own experiences for this film other than in the father-daughter relationship?
SJ: Life experiences help inform you about certain characters. You might observe people and remember them when you're developing your characters. Teachers, friends of the family, people you really don't like. There are actors who want to be liked even when they're playing bad guys. You can see them not being as bad as they need to be. I try to do things that make the story move forward and affect the people in a specific kind of way, so I use a lot of things and I use a lot of people in terms of what I've seen them doing. When I was doing "Unbreakable," M. Night Shymalan found out I could do long takes without blinking. He'd then tell me not to blink at all!
Q: Kerry told us that a scene was deleted in which Lisa pretends that she wants to seduce him. Is Abel sexually attracted to her?
SJ: I guess you could say that. Sometimes we'll look at couples and say, "Why are they together?" I'll hear my wife's successful, attractive unmarried friends say they'll see a good looking black man with a white woman who isn't as attractive and they'll say, "Why her? Why won't he look at me like that?" A lot of us ask those questions and I can see Abel asking why she is with Chris rather than him.
Q: Do you think "Lakeview Terrace's" violent-confrontational conclusion is inevitable?
SJ: There is a time Chris and Lisa could diffuse the situation as easily as Abel could. They take it personally when his light shines in their bedroom at night. But that motion light was there before they moved in because he wanted to see if anyone who casing the neighborhood. He's thinking, "You're an affluent couple, buy some curtains!" Also, when he goes to their house-warming, he's kind of open but all of a sudden everyone is making it clear "We're better educated and you're just a cop," and they talk down to him. You kind of feel bad for him for a moment, but he defends himself as best he can. So there are ways when they all could do something different, but it doesn't happen. And finally lines are crossed and he kind of loses it and unravels.
Q: Is there anything you had to do to prepare to play a cop?
SJ: I've been around enough cops doing cop movies. I've been trained by several different law enforcement agencies. I've done ride-arounds with cops and spent time with the gang unit, so I understood what they do and their attitude toward people. It's a matter of understanding the amount of power you have and how you use that power.
Q: How did you like working with Neil LeBute?
SL: I was glad to work with Neil who is a playwright and a really good director who understands character and character development. The relationships of the characters in the story were a lot more important to him than laying track for a crane shot. He isn't a director who thinks the camera will do all the acting and all the work. It's really refreshing working with someone who pays attention to what's going on between the people on the screen.
Q: In "Jungle Fever," you were in a film in which there was a couple where the man was black and the female was white. In this film, it's the reverse. And in both people don't approve.
A: I'm aware people might say, "Oh, wow, it's a black man who is a racist in this movie." Well, there are black racists. Unfortunately, yeah. We all have opinions about people and who they are and why they together. It doesn't have to be a black and white thing. People might say, "She's so tall and he's so short." Ugly guys can get good-looking girls.
DP: Was it after "Jungle Fever" that people start recognizing you on the street?
SL: It was actually after "Coming to America," when I was living in New York. That was the biggest movie I'd done. Then I did "Die Hard" and "Pulp Fiction." "Die Hard" was the biggest grossing film world-wide the year it was released. Wherever I went on the planet I was recognized after that. All of a sudden I was a world figure. I've always been the black Jerry Lewis in France!
DP: I've read where you are the biggest box-office actor over a career in the world.
SJ: I've made a couple of movies that have made some money. The guy who is in second place was in the first "Star Wars" movies, I was in the second group. They were charging more money at the movies when I made mine.
Q: Would you like to do a "softer" movie sometime?
SJ: Sure, but what I really want to do is make a western because I grew up watching them.
Q: Do you think "Lakeview Terrace" will cause a lot of discussion?
SL: I hope that people go to movies and are entertained. If you want to talk afterward about whether the movie's social ramifications, that's great. I haven't done many movies that I've thought had great social value, in terms of changing society.
Q: There's a group of people who are protesting this movie...
SJ: Republicans?
Q: It's a black group that's saying there's no such thing as a black racist.
SJ: There are people who say, "You can't be a racist unless you have undue influence on another race." No, you can be a racist just because of what your attitude is.
Q: So they're going to protest it.
SJ: Oh, cool. Any time there's a protest more people will go see the movie. I'm down with that.

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