Why is “motherfucker” such a great word?
Because you can use it so many different ways. It can be a personal affectation, a description of something great or bad, an exclamation of joy or pain…It’s always great to use it in a movie in all those ways. And people get it—they love that word.
How many times have you said it on-screen?
No idea. In movies where they let you curse, like Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, it just comes up. It’s funny—somebody told me I have the only “fuck” in 1408. You only get, like, one “fuck” in a PG-13 movie, and I got it.
What’s the key to being a cool guy in your 50s?
I’m not cool. A lot of the characters I portray are cool, unshakable guys who wear the right clothes and say the right things. People think that’s who I am, but I’m square. I stay home. I read a lot. I don’t do cool things like go to clubs and catch hot chicks.
Your movies have grossed almost $4 billion at the box office. Is there anything money can’t buy?
Number one, all that money’s not mine. I was paid a specific amount to do those films, and the billions of dollars belong to somebody else. Folks say money can’t buy happiness, but I say it buys a damn good substitute until happiness comes along. Money isn’t the root of all evil—it makes life a hell of a lot better. I have no gripes about money. I’ve been poor, and I totally prefer this.
When did you first realize that you were rich?
The first movie I made a lot of money on was White Sands—I think I was paid $60,000 or $70,000 for eight weeks. They also gave me a per diem that was more than I’d ever made doing a play. I was like, Wow! This is the movie business? I’m down with this.
You don’t need cash, so why do so many movies?
I got my work ethic from my grandparents and my mom. People say I’m a workaholic, but when I was growing up, adults worked and had two weeks of vacation a year. That was what grown people did, and that’s what I do.
Ever thrown a tantrum on set?
Oh, yeah. Movies aren’t all lovefests. There are times when I’ve had enough, when the director’s done 30 takes and I go, “Why are we doing 31? Tell me what’s wrong so I can help.” But he’s just indulgent. Or if an actor is mistreating someone on set, you’ve got to say something. You want everyone to work how you do, but that’s not how it is.
How do you deal with a drugged-up costar?
I try to do my part as quickly as possible, so that if they have to indulge that other person, they can. I don’t have the power to knock on someone’s door and go, “Get your crap together!” I wish I could.
Do you remember the first time you tried drugs?
In high school everybody was drinking cough syrup. Back then you could buy Robitussin over the counter, and it had drugs in it. The first time I drank it was in the summer, and I was at this lake where we all hung out. We were delusional and out of our minds.
And the syrup led to other things?
I grew up in the ’60s. If you didn’t use drugs, either you were a narc or there was something wrong with you. Drugs were necessary to be cool and hip. It’s the same kind of peer pressure kids have now.
Why did you get hooked?
That’s my personality. I’ve never been able to do something that feels good and then stop. If I bought a six-pack of beer, I’d drink six beers. If somebody could take one hit of acid, I could take three. I’m genetically coded a certain way, which also makes me work the way I do.
Do you have any words for Hollywood actors who may have drug problems?
No, I really don’t. I had a great time for a long time. By the time I started smoking cocaine, I knew I was at the bottom and went to rehab. I have friends who still get as high as they used to and go to work and take care of their kids. I’m not gonna say, “Don’t do that—it’ll lead you down the road to ruin,” because I don’t know if that’s true. Everybody’s experience is his own. A lot of people can go to dinner, have a bottle of wine, and go to work the next day. I can’t. I don’t know when to stop.
Has Tiger Woods taught you anything about your current obsession, golf?
There’s nothing I can learn by watching him. I can try and understand his mind-set about the game, but physically I’m incapable of doing the things he does.
Do you gamble on the course?
There’s no reason to play unless you gamble.
What’s the most you’ve won?
Five or six thousand dollars.
You play an ex-boxer in Resurrecting the Champ. What’s the worst fight you’ve ever gotten into?
There was this kid in high school who’d pick one person and pile on him for a week, and finally it was my week. On Monday he jumped me, but by the third day I realized he hadn’t hurt me the first two days, so it was on.
What’s been your favorite way to die in a movie?
Death by shark in Deep Blue Sea.
The coolest way to kill someone?
Pumping those bullets into Chris Tucker in Jackie Brown.
Why did Snakes on a Plane bomb at the box office?
It’s not my job to make sure people see the movie. The publicity people did all they could do. It only proved that people who sit home and blog don’t go to movies. The same thing happened with Quentin and Grindhouse.
We know you can sing, as proven in Black Snake Moan, but would you ever drop a hip-hop album?
No way. I’ve been vilified for what I’ve said about rappers coming into my business. Maybe I’d do it for a role, but as me, Sam Jackson? Not a motherfucking chance.