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Samuel L. Jackson

A consummate professional, Samuel L. Jackson put in years of work with small roles in small movies before a young director by the name of Quentin Tarantino turned him into a Jherri-curled superstar.

It took almost twenty years for American audiences to finally put a name to Samuel L. Jackson’s face. Born in Washington D.C. on December 21, 1948, the actor was raised in Chatanooga Tennessee. Growing up, Jackson was plagued by a stutter. He first got into acting after his speech therapist suggested that auditioning for the college play might help him get over the impediment. It worked, and Jackson soon switched his major at Morehouse University to Drama. While attending the University, Jackson became active in Civil Rights causes, and was expelled from Morehouse for participating in a student demonstration. However, the school took him back, and he graduated in 1972. Soon after, he moved to New York to become a star.

He received some early acclaim working with the Negro Ensemble Company of New York, and appeared in diverse theater productions. While it offered paychecks, the money was still rather tight for the struggling actor. Other, slightly bigger, paychecks came when Jackson landed a job filling in for Bill Cosby on his hit 80s sitcom The Cosby Show. Jackson’s job was to keep the audience entertained between breaks.

Jackson had also worked in movies, and had made his debut in the 1976 television movie, The Displaced Person. From there it took five years for Jackson to log his second credit, “Gang Member No. 2" in 1981's Ragtime. Jackson’s work over the next years continued to be mostly in minute roles, “Hold-Up Man” in Coming to America, and “Black Guy” in Sea of Love.

The only man who would give him any real work was director Spike Lee, who cast Jackson in such films as Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever. The two hit it off after Lee saw Jackson perform in a presentation of A Soldier’s Story. Jackson had long been a fan of the stage and had garnered a good deal of success off Broadway. When he later had the opportunity to be the lead in a version of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running on Broadway, he lost his job. The producers were apparently scared off by Jackson’s growing addictions to booze and crack cocaine.

Losing the role was a wake-up call - and Jackson soon began to get his life in order. Ironically, his first role as a clean and sober actor was in Jungle Fever, playing the crack addicted brother of Wesley Snipes’ character. There was already a notable difference in Jackson’s capabilities. He won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Best Supporting Actor, a category they had never recognized before.

Better roles followed, and gradually audiences began to recognize Samuel L. Jackson’s face. However, it was 1994’s Pulp Fiction which really blew audiences away. The actor nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his turbulent role as a Bible-quoting hitman who thinks he’s witnessed a miracle and wants out of the business. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson was now a star.

Created By: Marcus Sherrell

Updated on: 04/26/01

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