He may not be a part of the $20 million club with Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks, but after a blockbuster year, with Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones; Changing Lanes; XXX} and his latest flick, the British crime thriller Formula 51, as well as a host of movies on the horizon (including S.W.A.T., Basic, and Blackout) Samuel L. Jackson will have banked more face time on the big screen than both of the dual-Oscar winners combined. And, at 53, “action” Jackson is just hitting his stride.
“I’m very fortunate to be where I am and lucky to have a job that I like,” says Jackson, humbly. “Acting opportunities are rare. According to the Screen Actors Guild, 10 percent of the total membership is working at a given time.  I guess {many} actors feel like I used to feel, ‘Why does he get all the jobs?'”

In Formula 51, Jackson signed on for double duty as executive producer and star.  He plays Elmo McElroy-a wayward, but fashionably forward, American chemist who becomes entangled in a bizarre drug deal with Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) and Emily Mortimer (Lovely & Amazing) while in England peddling his powerful blue pleasure pill guaranteed to take users to “the 51st state.”

But it’s not all work for Jackson. The Los Angeles transplant just returned from Atlanta where he was visiting his wife, actress LaTanya Richardson, 51, on the set of the gospel music film, The Fighting Temptations, and daughter, Zoe, 20, who’s attending Spelman College on exchange from Vassar.

ESSENCE.com caught up with Jackson–the hardest working actor in show business–in his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, to talk about the secrets of his success and his sexy skirt.

Elmo, the chemist you play, is quite a character-golf-club-carrying, braid sporting, and kilt wearing. Whose idea was it for you to wear the kilt?

It was in the original script. The character description on the first page is a big, black guy in a kilt with golf clubs entering an airplane.  I thought, ‘What is this?’  As I continued reading it and finished reading it I realized, ‘Oh, it’s a British gangster movie.  I’d always wanted to do one since  Long Kiss Goodnight. And it was a comedy, and I don’t get to see a lot of comedies come across my desk, so it was a different challenge.  I have done characters that have senses of humor but I don’t think I’ve done an outlaw comedy since Great White Hype. So I wanted to see if I could still be funny.

Oftentimes in your movies, there’s an allusion to your sexual appeal.  In this, there’s a lot of sexual tension, but you don’t get the girl in the end.  Where’s your love interest?  Seems like you missed out.

{Laughs} I’ve been missing it my entire {career}], c’mon. Even in Shaft, I kinda’ missed the girl. I don’t know. Caveman’s Valentine, the caveman had more sex than any of the characters that I’ve had in a long time, except for Eve’s Bayou. {laughs}]  I mean, c’mon, I’m 50-something years old; you don’t want to see me with some 20-something-year-old on screen. There are no 30 or 40-year-old black star actresses except Angela Bassett and Halle Berry, and Angela’s doing TV movies.

Speaking of potential co-stars, or those who won’t be–seems you caught a lot of flack for your comment about not wanting to work with rappers.

By the time I said what I said, I’d already worked with Method Man, Busta Rhymes, LL and probably somebody else. Eve’s in XXX. What I said was that I would not be in a movie that starred a rapper. I will not support a rapper in a movie. That has nothing to do with Ice Cube, LL, Will Smith or anybody else who’s established an acting career. I saw the trailers for 8 Mile. Looks good.  It’s got a great pedigree. It’s got an Academy Award-winning director. It’s got an Academy Award-winning actress in it. And Eminem actually looks like he’s doing a great job playing Eminem, and hopefully he is. But if he decides to do another movie and they want him to be a college student or college professor, cop, lawyer, doctor, then we’ll see. Are you an actor or are you a rapper? It’s just that simple.

You’ve been working so much, is there a pinnacle that you’re trying to reach?

I don’t think there’s any such thing in the movies.  In the theater there’s always the thought that, ‘I’m mature enough to do Hamlet’ or ‘I’m mature enough to do Macbeth.’ In the movies, you just kind of read the scripts that come along. There’s no classic movie role to do unless you’re doing something like Streetcar… or something. You find roles that are challenging to you in specific kinds of ways and you do them. It’s like the year that Jack Nicholson won for As Good As It Gets and Robert Duvall was nominated for The Apostle and he lost. I liked watching Jack in that film, but I’ve seen Jack do that {character} before, but I’d never seen Robert Duval do that guy before. If you’re going to win an Academy Award you should do it for something that’s different, that’s dynamic, that is memorable. Diversity is what keeps me doing it and there are a lot of different things that I can do and I’m looking for those different things.

Does this mean you’re branching out?

In a perfect world, for me, I would do all venues. There are TV shows that I would love to be on. I like CSI. I liked Homicide when it was on. George {Lopez} is my friend and he asked me to do an episode {of his sitcom}, but I was doing Blackout in San Francisco.

Bernie’s my friend. I’d do Bernie Mac if I had an opportunity. I just don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to do it. {As for theater}], according to my agent, it’s kinda hard for her to put gas in her Mercedes with 10 percent of a theater salary {laughs}. Every time I talk about doing a play, my agent finds me a job. The last time I did a play I was shooting Pulp Fiction. There are a lot of actors that are going to theater who didn’t do it, or are going back to it. I did theater for 20-something years. I’ve only been doing movies for eight or nine years, so I’ve got a lot of ground to make up.