Back in March, Vanity Fair published Mark Seal’s colorful piece about the making of Pulp Fiction, which turns 20 next year. The whole piece — which features interviews with Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and many more — is excellent, but here’s a choice excerpt about how Jackson ended up getting the part of Jules Winnfield (which he almost lost to Paul Calderon):
Jackson spent the hours on the plane marking up the script, “figuring out the relationships.” He landed just before lunchtime, not knowing that Calderon had also flown from New York to audition again that same weekend. “It was like high noon,” Calderon remembers. “I was the first one who was going to audition; Sam was supposed to come in after me.” But Tarantino arrived late, which caused Calderon to lose his cool. “We went into the audition room, and one of the producers started to read with me, which, to this day, I look back on it and think, I should have said no,” he says. “I couldn’t recapture the rhythms I had in New York. At the end, I said, ‘I give up.’ The air was going out of me like the Goodyear blimp.” Tarantino wound up giving him a small part in the movie.
“I sort of was angry, pissed, tired,” Jackson recalls. He was also hungry, so he bought a take-out burger on his way to the studio, only to find nobody there to greet him. “When they came back, a line producer or somebody who was with them said, ‘I love your work, Mr. Fishburne,’ ” says Jackson. “It was like a slow burn. He doesn’t know who I am? I was kind of like, Fuck it. At that point I really didn’t care.”
“In comes Sam with a burger in his hand and a drink in the other hand and stinking like fast food,” says Richard Gladstein. “Me and Quentin and Lawrence were sitting on the couch, and he walked in and just started sipping that shake and biting that burger and looking at all of us. I was scared shitless. I thought that this guy was going to shoot a gun right through my head. His eyes were popping out of his head. And he just stole the part.” Lawrence Bender adds, “He was the guy you see in the movie. He said, ‘Do you think you’re going to give this part to somebody else? I’m going to blow you motherfuckers away.’ ”
When Jackson came to the final scene in the diner, where Jules quotes the Bible, his acting became so real, so angry, that the actor reading with him lost his place. “And when I got back to New York, I was still pissed,” says Jackson. “Bender told me not to worry. Everything was cool. The job was mine. And he said the one thing that sealed it was they never knew how the movie was going to end until I did the last scene in the diner.”
Two random Pulp Fiction-related thoughts:
First, I first saw Pulp Fiction during my freshman year in college, at the Starship 9, Lincoln’s second-run theatre (sadly gone, now). I had heard lots of good things but I was anxious while watching it because I had also heard about that scene. I simply was unable to enjoy the movie because I was dreading that moment, which, of course, happens near the end — so much of my initial viewing of Pulp Fiction was ruined. Once that scene was over, though, I was able to relax and I walked out of the theatre thinking the movie was brilliant, cooler-than-cool, etc. Particularly the scene embedded below, the dialog of which I still love to recite.
Second, Pulp Fiction is responsible for what I would consider my first real spiritual experience while watching a movie. I was out of college and hanging out at a friend’s apartment. We were bored, so on a whim, he threw Pulp Fiction into the VCR, and it just happened to be queued up to the diner scene at the end with Jules’ famous monologue.
To paraphrase Jules, I had watched that scene many times over the years, but I never gave much thought to what it meant. But as Jules was giving his exegesis to Ringo, it hit me like a lightning bolt that I was watching a movie that was, all violence and profanity and drugs and cool criminal swagger aside, about the wages of sin and the desire for redemption, and how grace pops up in the unlikeliest of places for the unlikeliest of persons.
It was an eye-opening and exhilarating experience to realize that an often-vulgar movie that many had (understandably and legitimately) criticized could nevertheless be the vehicle for something rather profound and illuminatory. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it forever changed how I thought about, and watched, movies.
Via MG Siegler
Want to ensure Opus’ continued existence and get some special perks? Become a supporter today. Contributions help offset the site’s hosting costs.
I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.