Samuel L Jackson What I've Learned: "I don't think I'm so cool"

On his 65th birthday, the actor talks drugs, going bald and his second favourite swear word (you know the first)

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Everybody equates the characters that I play on screen to me; the characters are cool so therefore I'm cool. I don't think I'm so cool. I don't do a lot of interesting things. I play a lot of golf.

Is Hollywood sleazy? Parts of it are. People lie to you all the time. It's like the old joke: two agents are walking along the beach. They see a pretty girl and the first guy says, "Man, I'd really like to fuck her." The other agent goes, "Out of what?"

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They only found my arm in Jurassic Park so I'm not sure if I was eaten. I always imagined myself with one arm, riding around Jurassic Park on a dinosaur having found out how to control them. They just never got to that part of the story.

I realised that drugs were becoming a problem when I started to borrow money from other people to get them — money that I had no intention of paying back.

I went to a bachelor party for a friend of mine and I was drinking tequila. I remember being so drunk that I thought I needed to buy some cocaine to level off. I got a cab, bought the cocaine, went home and I cooked it... smoking it is a lot more addictive and a lot more debilitating than snorting it. I passed out before I smoked it. That was in 1990, somewhere around there. The next day I was in rehab.

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Movies used to be made by artists. Now they're made by businessmen.

Life is not fair. There are the haves and there are the have-nots. The haves continue to want to have and they tend to generally keep the world in a place where the have-nots can't reach their plateau. That's not fair. I reached that conclusion when I was a kid. I grew up in segregation. There were people who could go places that I couldn't go and do things that I couldn't do. It was the way life was, I thought that was the way it would be and I just kind of dealt with it. I found my place in there and learned how to move within that structure. You have to find that little handhold of yours and claw your way up.

Going bald is something you can't avoid so why be afraid of it? I just rolled with it.

I've been in a movie that other people love but I can't stand watching it because the experience of making it was so horrible. I don't want to talk about it. 

All marriages have ups and downs. If you fight through whatever the problem is and solve it then you'll end up staying together. If you'd rather be bitter and not communicate then you create chasms that can't be crossed. I've been married for 32 years.

Dark Side of the Moon is the perfect album. I was the black kid that liked white music, according to my friends. I've always been into Cream and Led Zeppelin and The Police.

I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My mom worked in somebody's house. My father was gone. I didn't see him until I was in my thirties. We had a conversation in Kansas. I was going to visit my grandmother, who I'd never met. She always sent me cards for my birthday and Christmas and everything. I was close by, so I went to see her and my father happened to be there. Did I like him? Not particularly.

I'm real old-fashioned about that "do unto others" thing.

I've walked down the street here [in England] before people recognised me and it's bizarre... skinheads would bump me and go, "Nigger, move." I'd be like, "What the fuck?" They would apologise! "Oh, I'm sorry. You're American." If I was one of theirs and I had the right accent they might kick my ass.

If I'm ever having trouble sleeping I watch The English Patient. I'm always asleep by the time Willem Dafoe gets there. I've never seen the whole movie.

My religion is private in a specific kind of way. I mean, yeah, I'm religious. Do I believe in God? Yeah. That's all you need to know.

My finances are pretty much off limits, too. I do OK. I've made enough to make sure that my daughter doesn't have to strain when I'm gone.

I don't treat myself like I'm special. But there's a whole new phenomenon with fame now that, I guess, if I was a younger person, maybe I'd get caught up in it. People pay you huge amounts of money to come to a club and just be there so that other people will go.

I like to have an hour or two every day of being by myself. That gives me time to read and decompress.

My mom was a victim of Alzheimer's. She just passed last year. When I'd go see her, I was just a person or a blur or... I'm not sure what I was to her. My mom hadn't known who I was for the last eight or nine years. You reach a point where you know that there's some happiness somewhere in there, or there's a memory that she's having that's great for her. One time, I was sitting there talking to her and I popped up on the television while she was watching it. She looked at the TV, then she looked at me, and she said, "Sam." Yeah! She knows me! Then it was back to the television. Oh. So, I'd been feeling like she hadn't been there in a while. You lose them way before they die.

Please don't ask me to take a picture with you while I'm eating.

I'm a good shot. I've been trained to use guns by seven or eight different law enforcement agencies and I've spent a lot of time on the range for films. Plus, I've been around guns all my life. I have guns in my house. Pistols. I don't need an assault rifle or anything like that.

My second favourite swear word? Let's see. "Motherfucker" is first. Then "fuck", just by itself.

Photograph by Tom Van Schelven

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