Will Smith is this insightful, poetic guy who always has such profound things to say about life and career and love and marriage.
Samuel L. Jackson is also a guy who comes at issues and topics from a unique angle, except he's far more blunt and doesn't sugarcoat anything. To my mind, Smith likes to put the medicine in the candy, and Jackson is like, 'F—k it, I don't know how to cook anyway," and shoves the medicine down your throat.
Watching those personalities collide is like magic. Hell, nearly every Jackson interview is like magic.
So Christmas came early when I saw that both Smith and Jackson were among the six actors selected for the Hollywood Reporter's annual roundtable discussion. It's the interview where THR puts a bunch of actors in a room—people who will likely be nominated for a bunch of awards this upcoming awards season—and gets them to talk about serious stuff happening in their latest movie roles, in the film industry and in their lives in general.
When Smith was asked if there was a role he'd ever turned down because it conveyed a message he didn't believe in, it seemed as if he was going to answer the question generally and not give a specific example.
But Jackson wouldn't let him.
"[There were] lots of things that I've been offered […] I'm trying to think of one—" Smith said, before getting cut off by Jackson: "Django Unchained!"
"I'm just messin' with you," Jackson said, laughing.
"I was trying to avoid that," Smith replied, also laughing. He went on to explain how he and the movie's director, Quentin Tarantino, didn't see eye to eye on how Smith wanted the script to be rewritten. Smith felt that the script placed too much emphasis on vengeance and not love.
"I wanted to make the greatest love story that African Americans had ever seen—" Smith said, before getting interrupted by Jackson again:
"They did that already. It's [called] Love Jones," he said, reminding Smith about the 1997 classic.
I'm telling you, Jackson had no chill that day. Everyone is swept up in Smith's nobility and seriousness, and Jackson is like this dagger, piercing Smith and the entire room with reality.
Smith went on to explain his gripes with the Django script: "To me it's as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect.
"I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story. I don't believe in violence as the reaction to violence. […] Violence begets violence. So I just couldn't connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer," Smith argued.
Smith and Jackson had another divine moment. Smith was talking about a bit of a funk he was in about four years ago. He stopped acting because he no longer had a passion for his craft and needed to get lost in something to find his way again.
"I had a brief period four years ago. In retrospect, I realize I had hit a ceiling in my talent. I had a great run that I thought was fantastic, and I realized that I had done everything that I could do with the 'me' that I had," Smith explained.
"And I didn't work for about two years, and I [went through] marriage counseling, 50 parenting books, all of that stuff. And I really dived into me, and then all of a sudden it was like, 'Oh!' And I found the connection. Your work can never really be better than you are, you know? Your work can't be deeper than you are," he said.
Here, Smith is describing what Oprah would call an "aha" moment, but nope, Jackson interjected again with his concrete point of view.
"You know what you needed for that?" Jackson asked Smith.
"What did I need?" Smith said.
"A play," Jackson said matter-of-factly.
Smith went on to describe how his daughter, Willow, helped him become more people-oriented and less "product-oriented."
To that, Jackson basically summed up his life's ethos, which was pretty evident during the discussion: "I'm constantly evolving. I've grown as an actor. I'm getting older, I'm a little less patient with people. I speak my mind a lot more than I used to 'cause I used to think I'd get fired, and now I know I'm not."
Ha. Gotta love these two leading men and the distinct energies and perspectives they bring to their roles and to life.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.