Entertainment


Speaking his mind



No, not particularly," he says, bluntly. "I've had a pretty good career. I don't think it will validate my stature in Hollywood one way or another. I've done some pretty interesting things, and it's been a long and rich career. It's definitely not going to help my box-office record!"This much is true. Aided largely by supporting appearances in the Star Wars prequels and assorted Marvel movies — including last year's The Avengers — Jackson's films have grossed $9bn, making him, technically, the biggest box-office star of all time. Who needs Oscars? Overlooked for Django Unchained, the only time Jackson was nominated for an Oscar — for his hitman in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction — he lost to Martin Landau for Ed Wood and mouthed "Aw, shit" on camera when he heard the result.

The 64-year-old Jackson is cactus-prickly at the best of times. Today, talking about his role in Tarantino's spaghetti western/slavery epic, Django Unchained, he's in no mood to play nice. The story sees Jamie Foxx's slave Django set out to rescue his wife from the plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and run by Jackson's head slave Stephen. "The movie is not about slavery," says Jackson, testily. "Slavery just happens to be a backdrop. Even Django is not trying to end slavery. He's just trying to get his girl back."

Suspicious, shrewd and utterly deferential to his white master, Jackson's character is utterly repellent — though the actor refuses to consider him 'a bad guy'. "No, I consider him a product of his environment. That's what he's been all his life. He essentially raised Calvin Candie. Slavery has been in effect, more or less, for 150 years before you meet him. And as far as he's concerned, it's going to be in effect for 150 more. He lives a comfortable life. Somebody has to run the plantation. Stephen  does that. He writes the cheques, he makes sure people do their jobs. Stephen  makes sure that the plantation continues to run."

So Stephen doesn't believe he's a slave? Jackson rolls his eyes. "Does he look like he thinks he's a slave? You can see him physically. Does he treat himself like a slave? OK, well there you have it. He's living a pretty good life. And, no, I don't think he's a bad guy." Jackson is clearly getting tired of this line of questioning. "Like I said, there are certain people who are comfortable in the institution of slavery and there are certain people who are not. Stephen is comfortable in it. He's a collaborator. "

Jackson relents a little when we move onto the subject of Westerns. "I grew up watching Westerns," he tells me. "We had Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue and all that stuff. Then television had a bunch of Westerns on — Have Gun — Will Travel, Bonanza, The High Chaparral — three ranches that probably covered the whole US at one point! I played cowboys and did all that stuff. It wasn't Christmas unless we got guns and shot each other! " Was he a fan of the spaghetti Westerns that Tarantino holds so dear and clearly influenced Django Unchained? He nods. "I just remember the spaghetti Westerns being different Westerns."

While the film has already won Tarantino a Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay, it's also caused considerable controversy for its language.  In the US, Jackson took one journalist to task for questioning Tarantino's excessive use of the word 'nigger' in the script (110 times, according to one count). Except that the reporter referred to it as 'the N-word'. Jackson goaded him into saying it. "Say it! Try it! We're not going to have this conversation until you try it!"

When I mention to Jackson that Tarantino's script has caused a lot of controversy for its excessive use of the word, I get a sarcastic "Really?" in reply.So what's his opinion? Is he offended by it? Does Tarantino overuse it? "Did they have another name to call the black people they were talking about at the time?" he shoots back.

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