Samuel L. Jackson has made a career of playing sinister characters. But none is quite as unlikeable, or controversial, as his character Stephen in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. As the Candyland plantation’s oldest and more revered slave, Stephen, as Jackson puts it, “is the power behind the throne,” who throws a wrench in Django’s plans to rescue his wife—while providing a bevy of hearty laughs at the expense of Django and company.
ESSENCE.com caught up with a very relaxed Jackson (he kept his feet up on a couch during our interview) to chat about Stephen and playing the “most hated Negro in cinematic history.”
ESSENCE.com: What was it like to play an evil, but extremely funny, character?
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: It’s great to have a character that has that kind of agenda. [Stephen] throws those great lines and [has those] relationships with people and has tons of conflicts. It’s great to be that.
ESSENCE.com: Did you have any hesitation about taking on the role?
JACKSON: No, Quentin called me and said he had this movie he wanted me to be in. I read the script and thought this was great. I could be as evil as I want to be and be the most hated Negro in cinematic history. I was there!
ESSENCE.com: Was there any part of you that slightly resented Stephen because he ruined things for Django?
JACKSON: No, I like all my characters. You can’t play a villain and think of yourself as a villain. It’s not the thing to do. You have to go about the business of doing what he does and being who he is. I like Stephen. I like the fact that Stephen knows who he is and he’s comfortable in the skin he’s in.
ESSENCE.com: How do you go about preparing to play a house slave, if there is a way?
JACKSON: How do you prepare? Well, you know he is. You know where he came from. You know he’s a product of his environment and he’s been there forever. He runs the plantation, he can read and write. He writes the checks. He does more than everybody knows he does. He’s essentially the power behind the thrown in the plantation. He’s got a lot of power. He’s the freest slave on the plantation. He’s not burden by any of things that all the other slaves are. He doesn’t have to go out in the fields and work. He tells people what to do. He has a position of authority. He’s authority. He’s a business man. [Laughs]
ESSENCE.com: What’s your favorite memory of filming Django?
JACKSON: Being in New Orleans. I love being the South so much. I was in New Orleans from February to the end of July. I love being in New Orleans and being with the people of the state, people of the city and in that heat. I’m Southern. I like heat [smiles].