Samuel L. Jackson has been waiting…for a long time. Eighteen years ago, after the release of Unbreakable – one of the most original and unusual superhero movies ever – that film’s writer/director, M. Night Shyamalan, informed the actor that he was actually part of a trilogy. “He said, ‘It’s going to be three of these movies’, and we did one…” Jackson laughs to FilmInk. “And I kept saying, every time I’d see him, ‘So, are we doing the other two movies or what?’”
Like just about everyone else, Samuel L. Jackson received a nice surprise when he saw M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 hit, Split, and learned that this was, in fact, an ersatz sequel to Unbreakable. Jackson smiles. “I said, ‘How can it be part two and I’m not in it?’” The film’s now famous post-credit sequence featuring Unbreakable star, Bruce Willis, however, did indeed mark the film as existing in the same universe, and its mammoth success meant that Jackson was back in the frame. While 2000’s Unbreakable dealt with the concept of super powers through Bruce Willis’ indestructible everyman hero and Samuel L. Jackson’s evil genius, Split tilted the theme in a more horrific direction, as one of the supremely damaged James McAvoy’s multiple personalities is revealed to be a monster boasting above-human strength and agility. In Glass, all three of these formidable characters come together.
Jackson’s character, Elijah Price alias Mr. Glass – whose mental might is betrayed by his body, which can shatter like glass due to his brittle bones – has not, according to the actor, changed much in eighteen years. “He’s very smart and he’s very fragile,” Jackson says. “Pretty much it.” Mr. Glass has also, however, been locked up in a mental asylum, where he’s still been keeping tabs on Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, the man who helped put him there, as well as charting the progress of James McAvoy’s Kevin Crumb, and the beast that boils within him. “It’s somebody new that I want to explore, and all of a sudden he’s kind of delivered to me,” Jackson says.
The film is undeniably M. Night Shyamalan’s most highly anticipated in years, and finds the director hitting a new peak after a career dotted with game-changers (The Sixth Sense), disasters (The Happening, The Last Airbender), middle-tier flicks (Signs), disappointments (The Village) and the flatly forgotten (Lady In The Water). According to Jackson, Shyamalan is a much different director now than he was in 2000. “He’s not as dictatorial as he was when we first met,” the actor reveals. “He was fresh off the success of The Sixth Sense, and he thought that he had all the answers. He’d say, ‘Okay, don’t blink in this scene. Don’t pause there. Do this, do that.’ He’d give you line reads. This is how he wanted it to happen. But, over the years, you go through this business and every movie that you make is not a rock solid success. You get knocked around a bit. Your feet get placed back on the ground solidly in an interesting sort of way, and you come back to a particular thing that’s familiar. Even though it’s familiar, you have to understand that it’s familiar to the other people who were part of it too. We were allowed more in this particular instance to bring who we are to those characters, rather than him just imposing his will on us. He’s mellowed.”
The film’s shoot, however, was far from mellow. “We were in a mental hospital,” Jackson says. “A really spooky, scary, nasty abandoned mental hospital. The people who still work there say that very strange shit happens in there, and we can testify to that. We’d shoot in one part and the bathroom would be around six corners and three hallways away, and lights would go off, and would then come on. Guys would polish the elevators, and really shine ‘em, and then we’d come back and there’d be hand prints on ‘em…just weird shit. It was a place that you really don’t want to be by yourself. There were rooms with all kinds of water torture devices and shit. I grew up in the South, so I talked to my grandparents. I’ve seen enough weird stuff to know that the world’s not as black and white as people want us to think it is.”
The world of cinema has been exploring these concepts for many years, and lately there has been much focus on the concept of the superhero, with the cape-and-cowl crowd now the go-to subject for Hollywood’s blockbusters. Though Jackson says that “Unbreakable is not really a superhero movie,” the film certainly deals with the concept of super powers, and how they affect those blessed (or cursed) with them. “Comic books, or the mythology that’s inside them, came from somewhere,” Jackson offers. “Or did people imagine it? Or, did someone really see it? That’s still that whole conundrum. Is there such a thing as mind over matter that people can imagine themselves to be super strong and they can become that particular thing? Or, did someone actually see a god fly in with a big hammer and do some shit? Or, did they make that up? I don’t know. The difference with what we’re doing in this particular film is very great. We’re actually talking about whether people’s belief in superheroes or their belief in themselves being these particular things is a malady or manifestation of something that they can actually do. Or, when you do these things, are you really doing them, or are you imagining that you’re doing them?”
With powers far less radical than those of David Dunn and Kevin Crumb, Elijah Price is also a far less imposing figure in the film, though its title should give more than a little hint of his ultimate significance. “I’m quiet a lot in this film, which is fine,” Jackson says. “But it can be difficult just sitting there and listening to what’s going on around me and not responding in some way. Trying to make sure that nobody realises that I’m paying more attention than normal can be a real task. It’s really hard to be in a room with James McAvoy when he’s being seven different people having an argument, and you’re sitting there watching it and not being fascinated by it. I have to pretend like I expected this to happen. But it’s just great to watch him do that.”
When it is put to him that Glass might be a movie about people who are marginalised, Jackson nods in the affirmative, and says that those people are often cruelly underestimated. “That happens to a lot of people,” the actor says. “I gave my Kingsman character, Valentine, a lisp, because people tend to think that people with speech impediments aren’t as smart as people who don’t have them. Or, that people who limp can’t do this or can’t do that. So people underestimate them. Elijah Price’s malady, his fragility, has always given people license to think that he’s less than them, but they’re wrong. And he’s used that to his advantage.”
Beware, broken Glass…
Glass is released in cinemas on January 17, 2019. Click here for our interview with M. Night Shyamalan.