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With an actor as prolific and as long in the game as Samuel L. Jackson, a fan can pick a favorite performance only with great difficulty. Should it come from his roles in Hollywood blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Die Hard with a Vengeance, the Star Wars prequels, or the comic-book spectacles of Marvel Studios? His roles for iconoclastic auteurs like Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, and Paul Thomas Anderson? His role — immortal title line and all — in Snakes on a Place? For many, though, Jackson attains prime Jacksonianism in only one context: his ongoing collaboration with Quentin Tarantino.
Whenever Jackson appears in a Tarantino film, whichever character he plays immediately becomes one of the most memorable in cinema’s past 25 years. But will any ever surpass Pulp Fiction’s Jheri-curled hitman Jules Winnfield for sheer impact per moment onscreen? Tarantino wrote the part especially for Jackson after seeing what he could do with a thuggish character in Tony Scott’s True Romance, whose script Tarantino had also written. Tarantino’s second feature film (and Jackson’s thirtieth) rocketed the actor to the top of the zeitgeist, not least on the strength of what we now call the “Ezekiel speeches,” the scenes in which Jackson-as-Winnfield quotes what he describes as the Bible passage Ezekiel 25:17:
Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.
Jackson’s first Ezekiel speech (which owes as much to martial-arts star Sonny Chiba as to any holy text) comes toward the beginning of the movie, as he and his partner in killing Vincent Vega (a role that also did a great deal for its performer John Travolta, returning him to his former cultural prominence) turn up to an apartment to do a job. He delivers his final one in the highly Tarantinian setting of a Los Angeles diner booth, and both Tarantino and Jackson do their utmost to make it reveal his character’s transformation in his journey through the story.
It makes sense, then, that Jackson would break down and recreate that diner scene in the online course “Samuel L. Jackson Teaches Acting,” newly offered (for a fee of $90) by the education startup Masterclass. “I made a decision early in life that I wasn’t going to live and die in Chattanooga, Tennessee,” he says in its trailer, a line that could belong to the kind of monologue he delivers so powerfully in the movies. “Being able to embody a lot of different characters in film has been very cathartic, being able to let go of the anger or the disappointment that I had in my life.” Jackson’s Masterclass promises coverage of script breakdown, voice, characterization, auditioning, collaboration, and voiceover acting — catharsis, it seems, comes as a bonus. You can enroll now and get access to the 20-lesson course. Or you can purchase an All-Access Annual Pass for every course in the MasterClass catalog for $180.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.