The legendary Samuel L. Jackson has had many roles over the course of his career. Nick Fury, Shaft, Mace Windu, Coach Carter, but he is perhaps at his best when he's working with the genius Quentin Tarantino. With the recent release of the trailer for Tarantino's latest offering The Hateful Eight, Jackson looks like he's back to his usual badassery present in most of his movie roles. Jackson has starred in 4 of Tarantino's films to date (with Hateful Eight making 5). The characters he portrays in Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Django Unchained (he merely had a cameo in Kill Bill Vol. 2) all may have Jackson's typical aggressive tone and use of "motherfucker," but through Tarantino's vision and Jackson's versatility each character is given a unique, unforgettable personality.
Character: Jules Winnfield
Movie: Pulp Fiction
Synopsis: Ahh, the role that defined the very essence of Samuel L. Jackson's movie career. After watching Tarantino's Magnum Opus (#7 on IMDb's top 250 movies!) it's impossible not to love the Bible-quoting, burger-loving, profanity-spewing hitman. His wallet even says "bad motherfucker." And Jackson is a bad motherfucker as he devours Brad's meal comically and quotes the Bible before killing him, goes on a tirade against his partner Vincent after he "shoots Marvin in the face," and handles a robbery with ease ("Tell that bitch to be cool!"). Jules Winnfield turned Samuel L. Jackson into a legend.
Role: In a very ironic sense, Winnfield serves as the moral compass of the film. Are you gonna chose heroin-shooting Vincent Vega instead? Cocaine fiend Mia Wallace? Mob boss Marsellus Wallace? Or double-crossing boxer Butch Coolidge? Yep, Jackson's character gives us the closest thing to a moral center in this "immoral" film. Before the "divine intervention" of the film takes place, Winnfield is simply a bad ass motherfucker who serves as Vincent's companion and Wallace's pawn. Having his life miraculously spared ("God came down from heaven and stopped the bullets!"), he questions his status quo and gets all religious talking about how to be "the good shepherd" and shit. No seriously, in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction universe where mundane events escalate to a 10 regularly, Winnfield doesn't take anything for granted (unlike one particular guy who can't seem to leave the bathroom...). Tarantino's universe deals heavily with revenge, nearly every character is just trying to satisfy their own needs. Jules sets out to live a better life by not just looking out for himself. And the future looks bright for Mr. Winnfield (or at least we hope it is).
Most Memorable Scene: "Big Kahuna burger? That's that Hawaiian burger joint. I hear they got some tasty burgers. I ain't never had one myself. How are they?" (The rest of the scene is history)
Character: Ordell Robie
Movie: Jackie Brown
Synopsis: In Quentin Tarantino's most underrated movie to date, Sam L. gives off a very convincing performance (Golden Globe-nominated) as criminal mastermind Ordell Robie. He loves vodka and OJ, is a slick talker, has a thing for the epithet "nigga" even more than Jules Winnfield, and has a stoner girlfriend who watches TV all day. Oh, and he also likes videos of scantily clad women showing off machine guns. Ordell is a very interesting character, Jackson even admitted to this being his favorite Tarantino role. What makes this character great is Ordell's overall demeanor. He illegally deals weapons and takes care of his business, but is always down to have a good chat. He's cool as long as you don't double-cross him or screw up his operation.
Role: One of the most interesting aspects of Tarantino's films is the morally ambiguous characters. Jackson's performance makes you like Ordell even though he's a criminal (Tarantino makes us like criminals) and a threat to the film's main character Jackie Brown (Pam Grier). But would Mr. Robie be considered the antagonist of the film? Well, Jackie Brown itself lacks a clear antagonist (Jackie would more than likely be the protagonist). Tarantino's plot is every man for himself so there's no clear good guy so who the viewer roots for is up to themselves. I myself rooted for Ordell the entire film (how can you root against Samuel L. Jackson?). Ordell is an all about the appearances man. He makes you like him, he's always ready to work out a deal, but double cross him and he'll end you. Jackson's portrayal of Ordell Robie is as morally ambiguous as you can get.
Most Memorable Scene: Beaumont, that's all I'm gonna say (Jackson's most cold-blooded move in a Tarantino movie).
Movie: Django Unchained
Synopsis: Stephen, Stephen, Stephen. This is perhaps the most interesting role Jackson has a played in a Tarantino film to date. Stephen is a charming fellow who's full of witty remarks (like 2 other characters on this list), a big smile, and blatant racism towards his own race. That last part is what makes you truly hate this character, he stands in direct opposition to Django and Dr. Schultz's plan to rescue Django's wife from the menacing Calvin Candie (Leo should have got at least an Oscar nomination for this role). Stephen is technically a slave, but works in the house and is in good graces with Candie and his family. This gives him some sense of power and paints him in a negative light with the viewer.
Role: It takes Stephen more than half the film to finally appear on screen and when he does his role is established almost immediately. Going in to Django Unchained when it was in theaters (it was actually the first Tarantino film I saw) I had no idea Samuel L. Jackson was in it, so my first response to seeing him make a skeptical face at Django's arrival was "uh-oh." Jackson brings a lot to this role and gives off a menacing, hateful tone but is also hilarious. Yes, that's right Samuel L. found a way to make a racist slave funny (Stephen's character was originally more brutal in the script). Stephen's role is very similar to the character of Loki in The Avengers. Clearly he's a villain and clearly he's the only person in the way of the protagonists, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the character right? Loki is a very funny and witty character, but we never forget that we're rooting against him. Stephen is the exact same way, he has several great lines and is never menacing enough to the point where he's on the Bane level of villainy (except maybe the torture scene). Stephen plays the role of the witty, but despicable side villain to Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie. He's also comic relief in some of the scenes at the Candie house (the first dinner and meeting with Django specifically). You are meant to hate Stephen, but Jackson gives the role some of the good ol' Samuel L. charm that makes him tolerable.
Most Memorable Scene: His first appearance on screen (more than halfway through the film) and his response to Django's arrival. "He gonna stay in the big house?"
Make sure you check out Tarantino and Samuel L's latest offering, The Hateful Eight, in theaters Christmas Day on 70mm and digitally everywhere on January 8. I know I will!