PARK CITY, Utah — They’re three very big stars with three very distinct personalities. From Samuel L. Jackson’s icy-cool stare to Justin Timberlake’s boy-next-door charm to Christina Ricci’s indie-darling goth-girl mystique, you’d probably never expect them to appear in the same movie. As they appeared in the same room for an interview at the Sundance Film Festival, however, the three shared more laughs and memories than a family reunion.
Just before attending the premiere of their sexy Southern drama “Black Snake Moan,” the disparate trio dished about chaining people to radiators, their golfing skills and the crucial difference between popping and locking.
MTV: “Black Snake Moan” is a movie about a man (Jackson) who forces redemption on a promiscuous young woman (Ricci) by chaining her to his radiator and keeping her away from her boyfriend (Timberlake). What did you guys find so distinctive about this script?
Samuel L. Jackson: The redemptive quality of the characters, and the journeys that they took that were very genuine, human and Southern gothic. It was something that people hadn’t seen before.
Christina Ricci: I really fell in love with the characters. I loved Rae from the moment I read the script, and I just felt so much for her. She’s a girl that I’ve seen before, because of the well-established connection between childhood sexual abuse and wild promiscuity as an adult. And these things aren’t really treated as something that needs help. I saw her in a lot of other people — and I loved her, and I wanted to protect her.
Justin Timberlake: I am shameless, was looking for work and performed many sexual favors to get this job. [He laughs.]
Jackson: That’ll be written everywhere. That’ll be all over the Internet tomorrow.
MTV: Tell me what you expected from the other two coming into it — and then what they were really like.
Ricci: I didn’t know what to expect, really. When I was 14, I was obsessed with “Pulp Fiction” and wanted to be Sam Jackson, so I had no idea how badass he was gonna be. I was a little intimidated, but then he liked me, so it was OK. And then Justin just completely surprised me.
Jackson: He was on time, he knew his lines and was willing to subject himself to being number three or four on the cast list. Who knew?
Timberlake: I was obviously intimidated by both of them. But I find it interesting, the perception that comes along with someone like myself, or someone in my field, coming into a film, especially a film like this — indie, a smaller budget. I equally had my own perceptions. I didn’t know what to expect from Christina, but I’ve known Sam. We get along because we’re both golf fanatics, and we’ve played Pro-Ams [competitions] together.
MTV: Who’s better?
Timberlake: It depends on what day.
[Jackson gives Timberlake a long stare.]
Timberlake: OK, Sam. [He laughs.]
Jackson: Christina, I knew, was coming with deep commitment. I’d watched her work, and we’d known each other socially; we have the same agent. I expected her to dive into this and be great, and it was a joy to watch her transform and to be able to share that space, trust her and allow her to trust me to do the things we had to do to make this story real. I totally expected Justin to come in and be professional. The great thing about this movie is we were doing it near his home, and he was in a place that was familiar. Even though he’s playing a character nowhere near the person he is, he’s got a lot of fortitude to come in and show the vulnerability that this character has. Guys always want to be tough in movies. And to come in and break down and have fear — and to share that fear with someone — that’s a difficult thing for a guy to do.
Ricci: Yeah, I was really impressed too, that you didn’t pick a vanity project.
Timberlake: Oh, I have plenty of vanity projects, sweetheart. [He laughs.]
MTV: And how brave is Christina? Would either one of you guys be willing to do a movie where you’d be chained to a radiator half-naked?
Jackson: I have one of those at home, actually.
Timberlake: Yeah, that’s not for you guys to know about. [He laughs.] No, there were some scenes where literally I became enchanted watching Christina in this film. There’s so many layers to what she has created in this character.
MTV: Christina, people are calling this the bravest performance of your career. Do you agree?
Ricci: I think so, yeah. It was a lot to take on at first. I’d never been to the South, and this character deals with pain, and she’s such a polar opposite of me and how I deal with things. But I had so much sympathy for her that I really wanted to understand her. To be able to understand, to fall into somebody that isn’t yourself and fall so deeply … I gave everything to this performance. I hope it comes across that way.
MTV: Every great movie has to have that one classic scene, whether it’s the Titanic flipping over, or Butch and Sundance jumping off the cliff. Pick the one scene in this movie that you can’t wait for the world to see.
Ricci: This is purely out of vanity, but the scene in the juke joint where I’m dancing. Because [director] Craig [Brewer] made it look like I can actually dance.
Timberlake: It is pretty iconic. There’s a lot of symbolism with the chain to the radiator, and so many iconic scenes with Christina in the film. But for me, it’s not every day that you get to hold a gun to Sam Jackson’s head …
Jackson: And get away with it. [He laughs.] I like the scene in the house when she finally convinces me to play [music] for her, and I tell her the story of my wife and we actually perform “Black Snake Moan” in the house. That’s a pretty moving moment where we really connect.
MTV: Christina, you dance in this movie, and Sam, you sing in this movie. Did either of you ask Justin for some pointers?
Ricci: I did — and he wouldn’t teach me!
Timberlake: We had a little lesson. We had a little hip-hop lesson! She comes up to me on the set, she says, “Justin, will you teach me how to pop and lock?” [He laughs.]
Ricci: Which, apparently, is not a proper term!
Timberlake: So I said, “Well the first thing I need to teach you is that popping and locking are two completely different things.” The closest references I could come up with for popping was like, “Beat Street,” and the closest thing I could come up with for locking was [“What’s Happening!!” character] Rerun! And I think she got the picture. She doesn’t need any help from me; she’s hot enough in the movie anyway.
MTV: Now that you guys are up here at Sundance, have you been able to ski or snowboard?
Timberlake: That’s all I’ve been doing actually, for the last three days, is snowboarding.
Jackson: And I’m black. So, no. [He laughs.]
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