Snakes on Samuel L. Jackson

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The hottest cult movie of the summer isn't even out yet — the wackily titled thriller Snakes on a Plane. Samuel L. Jackson, who stars in the film, talked about it with TIME's Josh Tyrangiel.

TIME: Why did you want to do this movie? Was it really just the title?

Samuel L. Jackson Well, yeah. I knew I was going to do the movie when I saw the title. I've always watched movies like that and they're funny and more exciting in some ways than doing regular dramas or straight-ahead action pictures. It just sounded like the situation that I've always had fun watching in the movies — a bunch of people trapped on a plane with poisonous snakes. It's like, okay, this sounds like I can go and have a good time. So that's what I did. I like to think I have an audience member's sensibility, and the title just puts it all right out there. You either get it or you don't.

You're rather famous for eclipsing Harrison Ford as the actor whose movies have grossed the most money. Is that an indicator that you have popular tastes?

Sure, these are the kinds of movies that I watched growing up that gave me a lot of joy when I was a kid. I kind of realize that I have a tendency to choose the kind of films I watched when I was a kid and would go home and pretend with my friends that we were in those movies after we saw them. So I've done war movies because I watched war movies and I enjoyed them, I've done action movies because I like action movies, I've done high, serious drama because I watched those. The only thing that I kind of missed is the real, real horror genre, and I'm kind of getting into that a little more because I'm about to do a horror film, 1408. It's a Stephen King short story. And things like Snakes on a Plane and even Deep Blue Sea, i it's like running from something that's scary with big sharp teeth and doing that thing that we used to do when we watched Frankenstein and Dracula. The only thing I've kind of missed is finding a really good western that I want to do, because I watched westerns a lot.

When you and director David Ellis talked about tweaking the script before filming, what kind of things did you have in mind?

We were talking about the snake hits being better than just seeing a snake strike. In old cowboy movies you'd see a rattlesnake, hear a rattle and then there's the snake and it kind of struck off-screen, and you never saw the snake actually hit anybody. So you get actual snake hits, and if you got two people who are making love in an airplane bathroom, you just don't show a snake and show them kissing and hear them screaming. You know, girl's got her tit out, let the snake hit it! That's what people are there to see. Show people running all over the plane getting trampled. Show people getting impaled on broken pieces of plane. We have the capability, so do it.

Did you have any reservations about doing reshoots to incorporate some of the fans' ideas?

Not at all. Personally, I think it's great. They saved the movie. Those were things I was saying the whole time we were shooting, saying that we should shoot them anyway just in case you change your mind. And then they were like, "Well, no, we're trying to keep this PG," so they restricted my cursing and restricted the gore. It was kind of a waste of time. It's kind of like them changing the name of the movie. It's stupid. "Oh we don't want to give too much away." Of course you do! You want people to know they're coming to see people trapped on a plane with snakes. You don't want them to think they're getting on Pacific Flight 121, which might crash. Come on! Give me a break. I mean, they wanted to call it Pacific Flight 121. I told them that was the stupidest damn thing I ever heard.

I actually think I have an audience member's sensibility about going to the movies. There are certain things we expect of movies and certain things we want, and hopefully if I'm in a movie I can talk intelligently to a director or the producers and we can get that particular thing in the movie so that the movie is successful. Maybe not financially or artistically, but an audience member sits there and they're satisfied, because they got what they paid to see. I look at myself as an audience member. I still love movies, and I still go and sit in the back of the big dark room with everybody else, and I want the same thrill.

Did you end up saying, "I want these m-----f------ snakes off this m-----f------ plane?"

Yeah. It's kind of difficult to watch me in a movie and not hear me say mother------ once. I wanted to say it in Star Wars, but you just can't say that kind of stuff. Jedis don't talk that way.

David Ellis was very gracious about the fact that potential customers had a lot of input into his movie. Would other directors you've worked with, like Quentin Tarantino or Spike Lee, have been offended by the idea of giving up some control of their film?

Quentin already has that sensibility. He is an audience member who understands what should be in a movie. With Kill Bill, he knew what the Shaw Brothers genre was, so that if he's going to pay homage to that particular film, there are certain things that you have to do. You have to have certain kinds of fights. You have to show things. And if you have the capability of not just having blood splatter, but squirting out of someone's neck the way it was in Shogun Assassin, then you do it. You give it to an audience because that's what they're paying their money to see.

When you went back on the set to do the reshoots, was there a different kind of feeling on the set, like, "Hey, we may have something big here?"

I was there alone doing the things I had to do, just partial sets. Hopefully the other people got it. I knew when the websites started to pop up and people started to talk about the film itself and what they thought was going to happen, or people making posters or making T-shirts or creating songs, that there is a market that even New Line had no clue that they were tapping into. Hence, why would they want to change the name? Stop, listen and pay attention to what's going on here, because what's happening is something they couldn't have paid for, they couldn't have figured out or forseen.

I understand you go to marketing meetings on some of your films.

Sometimes I do. I try to, only because I truly believe that in most cases people in marketing have no idea what they're trying to market. Number one, because they aren't around it, they just read a script and they weren't there during the process and they don't know who they're making the movie for or who the audience really should be. Years ago I did this movie for New Line called Long Kiss Goodnight, which is an exteremely popular kind of genre film among a lot of people who buy DVDs. When we made the film, I told them, "You guys need to market the film to women." They were trying to market the film to 15-year-old boys. I said "Look, this is the most powerful woman that's been on-screen in years. She kills men. She does very cool stuff. You should be advertising this movie on soaps during the day, you should be advertising it on women's shows during the evening." They didn't do it. Consequently the film didn't make a lot of money. But women all over the world, no matter where I am, their favorite movie? Long Kiss Goodnight.

Have you ever thought about being a studio exec?

Right. [laughs] No thanks.