Samuel L. Jackson Is A Big Nerd, And Other Revelations From ‘The Man’

Jackson and co-star Eugene Levy have more in common than meets the eye.

As the film’s ad campaign has it: One guy walks the walk, the other talks and talks. In real life, however, both Eugene Levy and Samuel L. Jackson are equally verbose, particularly on the topic of their mismatched-buddy action flick, “The Man” (opening nationwide September 9th). In the movie, Jackson’s tough-guy federal agent Derrick Vann is forced to team up with naive dental-supplies salesman Andy Fidler while cracking a case involving drug-running, murder and police corruption. Off-screen, the two veteran actors discussed their comic timing, who has the more boring home life and why you should never, ever ask Mr. Jackson for an autograph while he’s eating.

MTV: So, guys, now that you’re done with the movie maybe you can answer the question: Who is the man?

Eugene Levy: I don’t want to give it away, but I will say that, personally, Sam will always be the man in my eyes.

Samuel L. Jackson: I’ll take [that title]. But I let Eugene handle it for a while.

MTV: With any good buddy movie it’s all about the personalities, and how they work together. Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, for example. What is it about your personalities that made you a similarly desirable pairing?

Levy: Well, I think part of what strikes people as funny is that Sam is noted mostly for his dramatic work, a lot of action stuff, and I’m really noted for not only comedy, but playing a more nerdy kind of guy — for lack of a better word. But how does it work? You know, we both work the same way. We look for the truth in a situation. Even in a comedy, it’s got to come out of a real place. Having Sam on the other end of this team here makes it a lot easier for me to look for that truth.

Jackson: The important thing in this particular film is that these two guys have some kind of profound effect on one another. That he’s not just the goofy guy, and I’m not just the tough, mean guy who doesn’t bend, doesn’t break. During the course of this film, as you see them together — especially in a scene in a car when they’re talking about different aspects of one another’s personalities — they do become changed by the interaction, so that at the end of the picture you have two guys going their separate ways, yes, but they’ve each learned something from the other that’s going to be with them for the rest of their lives.

Levy: How my character could have had an effect on Sam’s character, I think, is really the most interesting, brilliant thing about this relationship.

MTV: Sam, in the past, you’ve given interviews where you’ve said you’re not nearly as cool as people think. And Eugene is fighting a different battle, the battle against being perceived as a nerd. Would you guys like to switch perceptions in the eyes of the public, if only for a day?

Levy: I don’t think Sam would ever want to be the nerdy guy.

Jackson: Well, I don’t know that I’m not, in a particular kind of way. I mean, there are other people who live these hip lifestyles and do all these hip things. I sit at home and read books. I watch movies. I watch television. I go and play golf. I don’t go to nightclubs. I don’t go out to dinner that often. I’m not a big party guy. Yeah, I like my clothes and I have great cars, and I drive those. But for most people, it’s like, “That’s boring. You don’t club? You don’t party?” So that’s sort of the same thing [that Eugene does]. Read, watch television, watch movies, hang out with family. So we’re similar in a lot of ways, more so than people would like to believe.

Levy: [laughs] I look like this. I’d kill to be able to pull off this look [points to Jackson's flamboyant attire] right here, but I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.

Jackson: [laughs] I’ll loan you this shirt. You can wear it tomorrow.

MTV: A lot of the humor in this movie comes from Eugene doing something goofy, and Sam delivering that icy, patented Samuel L. Jackson stare. Are there times when such a powerful facial expression has come in handy in real life?

Jackson: When people want me to sign an autograph in a restaurant, and I’m eating. I don’t even have to say no, I just kind of stop and … [gives the look] “Oh, okay. I’ll … I’ll come back.”

Levy: I couldn’t do that. If I did that look, they would still be there saying, “No, you don’t understand. We want you to sign it now.

Jackson: [laughs] “I’m leaving now, so I need you to sign this now.”

MTV: Maybe these cool guy/nerdy perceptions date back to your first cars. What kind of rides did you have?

Jackson: The first car I had was a Triumph Spitfire. I had to get rid of it, because I was going from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and the car definitely wouldn’t have made the trip across country. So, I left it in L.A.

MTV: It was a piece of junk?

Jackson: No, it was a great car for a while, but it was a Triumph, and it was kind of old and it smoked a lot. I put a lot of energy into keeping it running.

Levy: I had a Chrysler LeBaron once, and I had to get rid of it just because I was taking so much heat from people.

Jackson: Because you were driving a LeBaron? [bursts out laughing]

Levy: Well, we were talking about my image.

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