Over a career going strong since the seventies, Samuel L. Jackson has shown us time and again that he can deliver a monologue — a boon to the craft of screen acting, where brief but powerful speeches seemed to have fallen out of fashion just before Jackson’s rise to fame in the nineties. His performance as Jheri-curled hitman Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, of course, supplied one of the engines of that fame, and who among us doesn’t know at least part of his Biblical “I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger” from early in that movie? In the nineties, critics looked to American independent film for exciting, innovative storytelling. At the moment, they look to television, and specifically to shows like Breaking Bad. At the top of the post, you can see these worlds collide, with Jackson’s recording of his own version of one of the series’ best known monologues.
As milquetoast high school chemistry teacher turned savagely calculating methamphetamine entrepreneur Walter White, Breaking Bad’s star Bryan Cranston has delivered more than a few striking monologues himself. Beset by a case of terminal lung cancer, White casts off the man he was to become the man who can, by the fourth season, speak the words he speaks just above to his wife, after she objects to the danger of his new line of work. “Who are you talking to right now?” he asks. “Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going in to work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly-up. Disappears. It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger.” Jackson performed his rendition of the monologue for an Alzheimer’s Association charity drive, but I would imagine Breaking Bad’s fans as well as Jackson’s own would hardly mind seeing him turn up on the show for a proper role.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.