Samuel L Jackson, who picked up a lifetime achievement award on the opening night of the Dubai International Film Festival on Wednesday, is renowned for speaking his mind on a range of issues – from race relations to gender equality and American politics.
So when The National sat down with the Pulp Fiction and Star Wars actor on Friday morning, we wanted to know how much he knew about the festival before organisers decided to bestow an award upon him. It turns out it has been on his professional radar for a while.
“I’ve been trying to get her for a long time,” says Jackson. “I’ve known about this film festival for years and been trying to get here, but I’m usually working.
"This time last year, I was in Hawaii doing King Kong, then on my way to Australia and Vietnam. The year before that, I was in London doing Kingsman, the year before that I was somewhere else, so I just haven't logistically been able to get here, but I've been trying to get here, and I'm really glad I finally have."
Jackson had only been in town for a few days, but seemed to like what he had seen so far.
“Dubai – like New York, LA, London or Berlin – is a unique city,” he says. “It’s different than being somewhere else in the UAE, I’m sure, because of its international quality and its openness to tourism.
“It’s very different to the rest of the world, so I can’t judge the whole UAE on Dubai, but I can judge Dubai on what people said it was going to be like, and I enjoy the peace here. It’s kind of peaceful here, even though there’s all this excitement going on. I don’t feel any jeopardy.”
The actor’s impressions of Dubai contrast with some of his previous international trips.
“There’s some places you go, like the first time I want to South Africa, I knew it was dangerous,” he says. “I was in Jo’burg just after it had been liberated and I knew I couldn’t walk around by myself. Here, I know I can walk around by myself and I don’t have to worry about anything. I don’t need a lot of people around me to feel I can do anything and be safe.”
That said, there is at least one place that won’t be on his sightseeing list while he is in town – Donald Trump’s recently opened golf course. Jackson, a keen golfer, was a vocal critic of the United States president-elect throughout the election campaign, and when asked whether he’d be checking out Trump’s latest venture he offered a simple response: “Nah, I’m good thanks.”
In the run-up to the presidential election, some reports in the US media had claimed that Jackson, like some other stars, would leave the country if Trump won, but the star dismissed any suggestion that his trip to Dubai was part of a house-hunting mission.
“Not really. I’m not looking, Everybody thinks I am, but I’m not,” he says.
In fact, despite his reputation as a long-time political activist – Jackson was an usher at the funeral of Martin Luther King in 1968 and was jailed following a civil-rights protest a year later – he remains remarkably philosophical about Trump’s victory.
“I guess I’m known as kind of a political individual of sorts. People know who I am and where I stand,” he says. “But I think now people like me are just feeling the way that all those people that hated Barack [Obama] felt for the last eight years. It’s just been a flip.
“I mean a lot of people voted for the dude. It’s not like he stole the election. A lot of people voted for him. More people voted for Hilary – but OK, fine.
“Look, for eight years a lot of people hated Barack, while half the world was going: ‘Wow America’s got a black president’, that’s so cool, it’s really growing.”
“Well now we know America didn’t grow so much. These people were just laying in wait and now we’re on the other side going: ‘I can’t wait for this guy [Trump] to be gone. Well, we’re gonna have to wait at least four years now while they get what they wanted, or at least what they think they wanted’.”