By now, we know Samuel L. Jackosn as a fun guy.
He’s does all those commercials, alone and with Spike Lee and Charles Barkley. He’s Nick Fury in Marvel shows; he hosts award shows for movies, sports and videogames. He does the cartoon voices of a dog, a dinosaur a superhero and more.
So it’s a detour to see him in “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey” (shown here), which arrives Friday (March 11) on Apple TV+. Here is Jackson, 73, as a 93-year-old man, clinging to tiny shards of his memory. Was he able to retain his fun side?
“Yeah, I’m not a method actor,” he said. Between scenes, colleagues saw “how silly I can be.”
Dominique Fishback, 30, who co-stars, agreed. “He has a really raw sense of humor,” she said in a Television Critics Association virtual press conference.
Ever since Walter Mosley’s novel came out a decade ago, Jackson said, he’s been hoping for a filmed version. “Sam literally knows the book better than I do,” Mosley said.
That was obvious, Fishback said. “He knows everybody’s lines. I was like, ‘Dang, I got to get like that!’”
The six-part mini-series is “a dark fairytale,” Mosley said. A treatment sharpens Ptolemy’s mind, but only temporarily. He can try to right a wrong from the past, before receding back into the fog.
For Jackson, the subject is personal. “I felt like I was surrounded by Alzheimer’s – my grandfather, my uncle, my aunt, my mom …. I watched them change, deteriorate, and become different people.”
On the flip side, his family has had longevity, with some people unhindered by age. “I’ve got a 94-year-old aunt (who is) smart as a whip.”
She’s played a large role in his life, he said. “She’s the first person who made me act or recite something and dance and do things. So she takes full credit for that.”
Raised by his mother and grandparents in Chattanooga, Jackson went to Morehouse College and became passionate about theater and the civil-rights movement. As an actor, he did roles (small ones, often) in strong films – “Goodfellas,” “Juice,” “Fresh,” “Menace II Society” and four directed by Lee,
Then “Pulp Fiction” (1994) brought his only Academy Award nomination (he gets an honorary Oscar this month) and fame. Ever since, he’s built a career that seems eternal.
“Once I sobered up, I discovered the value of sleep,” Jackson said. “I used to sleep like three hours a night; but sleep is so valuable.”
Now he works at exercising his mind and body — preparing to live as long as Ptolemy Grey, while staying as sharp as the aunt who first nudged him onstage.