‘Captain America’: Samuel L. Jackson on Nick Fury’s ‘Winter Soldier’ turn

April 09, 2014 | 4:05 p.m.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” blasted into theaters this past weekend, bringing to the screen a tale inspired by the famous 2005 comic book story line by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting and earning a record-breaking $96.2 million in domestic theaters. But the movie also has bigger ideas on its mind — drone technology, government surveillance, corruption and the unchecked consolidation of powers are all engines that drive a narrative in which Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers begins to uncover a conspiracy at international espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D.

He finds allies in Scarlett Johansson’s spy Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, and veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who has his own heroic identity as the Falcon, but also in Nick Fury, the cagey operative made famous by Samuel L. Jackson in a growing number of Marvel movies (and even on television in Marvel’s ABC series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”).

Last month, Hero Complex sat down with the actor who brings Nick Fury so memorably to the screen to chat about his “Winter Soldier” turn. (For those who haven’t yet seen the film, be warned, there are some spoilers ahead.)

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Hero Complex: There’s a great moment in the film in which Nick Fury reflects on spending time with his grandfather as a child. Are moments like that, where they reveal a little something new about the character, particularly interesting to play?

SLJ: The thing with him is, you don’t know if he’s making up a story to get you to do a certain thing or if he’s actually giving you a piece of himself. The great thing for me about that particular story is that is what my grandfather did when I was a kid. He actually ran an elevator in a hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn. That was his job. I used to go down there and sit in the elevator with him while he took people up and down. He got tipped that way and had money in his pocket or in a bag — and a little gun. He always had a pistol with him, some brass knuckles. I did not write that, it was just in there. It totally just happened that way. I chuckled about it. I was trying to figure out if I had talked about my grandfather in some interview somewhere years ago or something and somebody read it and put that in there. I never found out if that was the case. I think it’s a true story for him.

HC: The chase scene near the beginning of the movie — when the Winter Soldier first comes after Nick Fury — is pretty spectacular. How was the experience of shooting that sequence for you?

SLJ: It took a few days to get the banging and the shooting and the cops outside the car, me talking to [directors Joe and Anthony Russo] about how the gun worked in the car, how I was going to get from one side of the car to the other side of the car. It was about 10-12 days of getting that done and then finally getting on the street and doing the driving things that I had to do. Second unit was doing the actual driving. Henry Kingi is the guy who actually drove the car. I’ve known Henry for a pretty long time. He used to double me on “Spenser: For Hire” back in the day. He’s a great driver. When I saw it put together, I was like, this is awesome. You always have that moment where you’re sitting in the car, and they tell you, “Well, we’re going to shoot the car like 300 times.” Really? I’m going to sit inside this? You look outside and everybody’s covered up and got Kevlar on and I’m sitting there with nothing on. It’s kind of like, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

A scene from "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." (Marvel)

A scene from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” (Marvel)

HC: Does that give you pause?

SLJ: Always. I’ve been squibbed in the face. Special effects guys tell you, this is going to explode that way, and this is going to explode that way, and you have to trust them. I’ve been squibbed in the face and squibbed in the back and squibbed in the naval. I’ve been hurt enough by squibs to know they don’t always work the way they want them to.

HC: But Nick’s a tough guy.

SLJ: Nick’s a tough guy. Sam’s not.

HC: You’ve played this character so many times, with so many different filmmakers. What was different about working with the Russos?

SLJ: Getting them to trust that I knew what I was doing in the beginning. Everybody comes in and they have this picture in their minds of what they want things to be and how they work … Interestingly enough, one would come tell me one thing and the other would tell me another thing, and I’d go, “So which one of you should I be listening to?” They’d go, “What did he say?”… I said, “That’s not working for me. I’ll tell you what you do. Watch me do this, and if you think I’m doing it wrong, then I’ll explain to you later on why it’s right.” They finally got to the point where they trusted me to show up and do what I did. I’ve done Nick Fury six times; they’ve done him once. Hopefully, they reached that point of trust where they understood that I was kind of going into a space, especially my relationships with the people in it. I’ve had those relationships for a while.

HC: It’s rare that actors have the opportunity to play a character in so many different sorts of situations. Is that one thing you especially enjoy about playing Nick Fury?

SLJ: Sure, you always like to have somebody that you come back to — I’ve only done it in maybe “Star Wars” where I’ve come back to being Mace Windu time and time again. You reach a rhythm of who that character is, and inside the world that that character lives in you understand what his living space is in that world and how he views it and how he treats it and how he carries himself in it. It’s a very comfortable place to be when you return to it, especially when you return to it and the same people are there.

A scene from "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." (Marvel)

Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” (Marvel)

I like the fact that he’s in a fantastic world, but he’s not a fantastic person. He finds a way of dealing with people who have these amazing, amazing sort of powers and all these other things going on and he finds a way of leveling the ground with these people in terms of who he is and what his power is and getting them to bend to his will.

HC: Robert Redford joins the Marvel universe in this film as S.H.I.E.L.D. executive Alexander Pierce. What’s he like to work with?

SLJ: Awesome. I’ve known Robert to talk to him socially in various iterations over the years. Having never had an opportunity to be on screen with him, it was a great joy to do that. It was everything I always thought it would be. He knew what he wanted to do, he knew how he wanted to do it.  I think maybe surreptitiously the conversation we had before we shot that morning, talking about golf and the world and where he’d been and where he was going and why he even took this job, took us to that really great place where we had that conversation about Nicaragua and whatever we’d done in the past to make us feel like we had that history, that we were part of something and had a different idea about freedom.

HC: Nick Fury solo movie?

SLJ: Everybody asks about it, but nobody at Marvel talks about it. So, I keep showing up. I only have three pictures left on my deal — I had a nine-picture deal and I’ve done six.

HC: But presumably you’d be willing to come back?

SLJ: As long as they let me. I can get shot at a lot more.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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