The Story behind Samuel L. Jackson's Breakout Role as Crack Addict in 'Jungle Fever'

Samuel L. Jackson revealed set security shooed him away after being mistaken for a nuisance addict while filming "Jungle Fever." He was still "detoxing" when he signed on for the role of a junkie in the movie. 

We know the story. Samuel L. Jackson hit rock bottom before his career shifted to great proportions after cleaning up in rehab. But what we don’t know are stories like the one the actor shared recently involving his debut film which he shot while he was still in detox.

THERE WAS A TIME HE MIXED WORK WITH CRACK

Jackson has been vocal about his turbulent riddled with a love affair with drugs. He began as early as sixteen when the vice was introduced to him by a professor. It started with acid, then heroin and cocaine and eventually crack. Looking back, Samuel admitted in his latest interview on “The Breakfast Club,” his drug of choice was anything laid out in front of him.

Though Samuel’s work as a Broadway actor then didn’t suffer much due to his addiction as he would still show up on time and ace his lines, he confessed to the Hollywood Reporter in January that he felt something was keeping him “from getting to that next place.” 

"I didn’t go in kicking and screaming. I went in. I was tired.”

THEN HE HIT ROCK BOTTOM

His tipping point came in the early 90s when he passed out on the kitchen floor surrounded with his drug paraphernalia. To make matters worse, his young daughter witnessed the whole thing. Samuel tells The Breakfast Club his wife, LaTanya Richardson shipped him to rehab the following day.  

“She called my best friend from high school, who was a drug counselor. He found a bed for me in upstate New York, so I went straight in there. I didn’t go in kicking and screaming. I went in. I was tired,” the award-winning actor recalled.

“I was a week out of rehab when I started doing “Jungle Fever,” so I didn’t really need makeup. I was still detoxing.”

HE WAS BARELY SOBER WHEN HE MADE HIS FILM DEBUT

It was shortly after when Jackson received a call for a role for his debut film, 1991’s “Jungle Fever.” Ironically, he was to play a crack addict. Against his drug counselor’s advice, the 70-year-old trusted his instincts and took the job which became his motivation to remain clean.

Jackson must have breezed through that role considering he had his real-life experience to use as a reference. It also helped that he didn’t need much makeup for the part. 

“I was a week out of rehab when I started doing “Jungle Fever,” so I didn’t really need makeup. I was still detoxing,” he said. 

Jackson added that he looked so much the part that the film’s security team mistook him for a crackhead lurking around the set and asked him to leave. 

"...there’s a very distinct correlation of me changing my life and being focused and clear about what I needed to do and my success."

COMING CLEAN PAID OFF

Regardless of the circumstances during filming, Jackson’s decision to do the film paid off. It earned him a best supporting actor award at Cannes. That same year, he met director Quentin Tarantino who would later cast him in the iconic film, “Pulp Fiction.”

Jackson later admits, staying clean was the best thing for his career.

“Once I got clean, everything sort of changed…So there’s a very distinct correlation of me changing my life and being focused and clear about what I needed to do and my success.”

He had appeared in more than a hundred films since “Jungle Fever” and credits his blockbusters, “Jurassic Park,” “Pulp Fiction,” and the “Star Wars” prequels as the highest earners.

HE EVEN MADE HISTORY

We know now that success translated to box office movies that earned him the title, “Highest Grossing Actor of All Time” in 2011. Guinness Book of World Records revealed his films grossed a total of $7.4 billion. He had appeared in more than a hundred films since “Jungle Fever” and credits his blockbusters, “Jurassic Park,” “Pulp Fiction,” and the “Star Wars” prequels as the highest earners.

“I want to get up and act every day. And there’s a limited number of acting possibilities in everybody’s lifetime. So I’m trying to maximize.

 

HE'S 70 AND STILL GOING

Samuel turned 70 recently and has no plans of slowing down. “It’s a great job,” he tells Esquire adding that he intends to achieve his maximum potential. 

“I want to get up and act every day. And there’s a limited number of acting possibilities in everybody’s lifetime. So I’m trying to maximize my [expletive]." 

Jackson’s story is a great inspiration to many who lost their way due to drug addiction. From rock bottom, he managed to soar high and stay sober. May his experience be an example of the power of determination and commitment in changing the course of one’s life.