Samuel L. Jackson: Action Jackson

The judges at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival were so impressed with Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of Gator the crackhead in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever that they created the category Best Supporting Actor just so they could honor him. Jackson himself was in New York looking for a job when this compliment was bestowed. "I called my agent to see if I'd received any call-backs," he says of the day he heard about it. His response to the news? "I said, 'Oh, wow, that's great! So did I have any call-backs?'"

The 43-year-old Jackson is long accustomed to being on the prowl for work. Dubbed "The King of Cameos" by his wife, actress LaTanya Richardson, he has appeared for years in plays, on television and in close to a dozen movies. He was the guy whose brains Joe Pesci blew out in GoodFellas. He was the loose-limbed jive-talker in the opening scene of Sea of Love. "I'm the guy in the pink hat. I say, 'Yo-yo-yo, give up the bad news, homeboy.' That was a big improv scene--the director stopped me and said, 'What exactly is this term homeboy?.' See, we were in Canada." Jackson has also seen a lot of rejection. "I've been told I wasn't African enough. And sometimes you don't get jobs because you're too good--'We wouldn't want to waste your talent on this meager part,' they say, and I'm sitting there thinking, 'I got a daughter who goes to school. She needs to eat, I need to eat.' When I auditioned for Mississippi Burning the director told me I didn't sound Southern. I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee! And this guy tells me I don't sound Southern! See, he was British."

With starring roles in White Sands and Paramount's big Harrison Ford summer picture Patriot Games, and two roles yet to shoot--one opposite Nicolas Cage in the Castle Rock production Amos &) Andrew, the other in Morgan Freeman's Buffalo Soldier--Jackson is now in major demand. He will, however, stay in New York ("I always figured if I was going to starve I could do it right here with my friends") instead of heading for Hollywood, but only because he likes New York, not because he condescends to Hollywood product. In fact, his dream is to play a swashbuckler. "A few years ago Morgan Freeman's granddaughter--she's a friend of my daughter--says, 'We're going to England. My grandfather's doing Robin Hood.' I got on the phone: 'How the hell did Morgan get Robin Hood?' They said the part was written for him. So I said, 'Are there any more black people in it?' I want to do a pirate. I want to swing from ship to ship with a knife in my teeth. I want to kick some butt. I would love to do that stuff. I don't want to ruin my artistic facade or anything, but I love splatter movies. I love stuff like Scanners. I've always liked to be freaked-out and I love to freak people out."