Samuel L Jackson in Shaft

Shaft Returns

It’s a simple tale of one man’s determination to meet out justice – no matter what the cost

Ian Spelling discovers that Samuel L Jackson fits the bill perfectly

From Film Review October 2000

Sam Jackson wants to get one thing perfectly clear: Shaft, in which he stars as John Shaft, is not a - repeat, not a - remake of the 1970 blacksploitation classic Shaft, which starred Richard Roundtree as John Shaft.

“Let’s clear up this whole remake thing,” Jackson says. “That was a big issue for me a long time ago, when I first read about this project. I said, ‘Why are they making a remake of Shaft?’ When I read the script I realized, ‘OK. We have an updated story.’ People kept saying, ‘So, you’re remaking Shaft.’ I started to think that if everybody thought we were doing a remake, then they also thought I was doing a reprise of the Richard Roundtree role.

"The only way to clear that up was to find a way to put Richard Roundtree in this movie as John Shaft, so I could create something that was new and my own. So I’ve created a guy who has the same attitude as John Shaft and hopefully he’s as tough and cool and heroic and, in some ways, sexy as Richard was.”

Mission accomplished. In the Shaft update, directed by John Singleton, Jackson’s Shaft is a tough and volatile New York City cop who bends the rules in an effort to rid the streets of drug dealers, racists and the like. When a black man is murdered for no particular reason by Walter Wade (Christian Bale), a WASPy guy whose money gets him bailed out and then out of the country, Shaft will stop at nothing to bring Wade to justice. He’ll hound witnesses (Toni Collette chief among them) and battle drug lords (Jeffrey Wright), and when Wade returns to America, Shaft goes after him with a vengeance.

Jackson got on great with Roundtree and his co-stars, but Shaft proved to be a rather trying experience for the actor. First, word was that Jackson was furious that his John Shaft bedded far fewer women than the Shaft of yore. After all, isn’t Shaft – to paraphrase the song – a private dick who’s a sex machine and gets all the women?

“The more I thought about it, the more I understood that, at that time Shaft was made, it was OK to sleep with five different women in one movie,” Jackson notes. “Now, it’s politically incorrect and I’d be a little more irresponsible and become a different kind of dangerous weapon if it happened.”

Shaft had a solid run at the US box-office, and Jackson has already worked on several upcoming features: Caveman's Valentine for Eve's Bayou director Kasi Lemmons, Unbreakable with Bruce Willis, and of course Star Wars: Episode II as Mace Windu.

Jackson – who one day hopes to star in both a horror film and a Western – says: "I like finding roles that are challenging to me as an actor, that allow me to explore something different, that hopefully lets an audience come and share an experience they don’t normally have.”

Image copyright: UIP
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

Jackson on gun play

Sam Jackson: he runs, he ducks, he shoots

Putting Shaft into the context of his other roles, Jackson says “And then there are movies that I do, like Shaft, just because they’re fun and entertaining. Shaft is the gun game I played when I was a kid. I get to run and duck behind stuff and shoot at people. People shoot at me and when they jump off stuff at me, I tussle with them.

"It’s not a cause movie. You don’t have to sit there and try to figure, ‘Will this make society a better place?’ No, it won’t. It’s a popcorn movie, and they’re fun, too..."


STARS Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Dan Hedaya, Busta Rhymes, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Gloria Reuben
DIRECTOR John Singleton
SCREENPLAY Richard Price, John Singleton and Shane Salerno
RUNNING TIME 1hr 40 mins
OPENING DATE September 8

Get the full interview, plus our review of SHAFT, in this issue of Film Review

Film Review Oct 2000 issue

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