M. Night Shyamalan totally M. Night Shyamalan’d Samuel L. Jackson with the ending of his 2016 comeback hit, Split. Shyamalan told Jackson he needed to set up a screening to see the film, adding, “Call me when it’s over.” Split’s final moments offer one of Shyamalan’s best twists ever (spoiler alert!) when Bruce Willis pops up as his proto-superhero character from 2000’s Unbreakable, thus revealing that Split’s multiple-personality monster (James McAvoy) exists in the same universe as that movie — which, of course, also starred Jackson as Elijah Price, a.k.a. brittle-boned, big-brained villain Mr. Glass.
Jackson knew since 2000 that Shyamalan intended Unbreakable as the first film in a trilogy but had no idea that Split was the secret second entry, or that Shyamalan was finally planning to make the third part, Glass, due in theaters January 18th. “He made me wait long enough!” says Jackson. Meanwhile, the notoriously control-freaky Shyamalan has mellowed over the last 18 years, according to Jackson. “He used to literally tell us, ‘No, don’t blink!’ He’s become a lot more collaborative.”
Was Unbreakable a movie close to your heart over the years? It wasn’t a blockbuster, but it has a strong fan base.
It did fine. Compared to “I see dead people,” they considered it a flop. It’s kind of like people watching Pulp Fiction and then watching Jackie Brown, and saying, “Oh, well that’s a flop.” No, it’s a great fuckin’ movie. It’s just not Pulp Fiction. So, Unbreakable did quite well, and it’s done well over the years. It has a bigger cult following than, I think… what’s “I see dead people?” What’s that fuckin’ movie?
The Sixth Sense.
The Sixth Sense. This has a bigger cult following than The Sixth Sense, and the majority of people, if you ask them what M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie is, they’ll say Unbreakable.
What was it that appealed to you about the character in the first place?
I’ve read comic books all my life, so the fact that you have a guy here who actually believes that ’cause he’s a certain way, there has to be a direct opposite of him, appeals to me. That if I break easily, there’s somebody out there who doesn’t break at all. I was totally open to that. I mean, like I said, I read comic books, I read science fiction, I read all kinds of crazy shit, so I was on board for that. The look of the character, the way we discussed him and how he wanted me to portray him, you know, was really interesting to me because it’s not something people actually allow me to do. People don’t allow me to be quiet a lot [Laughs]. People don’t hire me to be quiet, so that was a great thing. I just love the intensity of Elijah and his belief, you know, and the same thing’s going on now, that he’s been sitting in this [mental asylum], holding onto his belief that there are people out there that are extraordinary. We just need to figure out how to find them.
Your monologue at the end of Unbreakable is so great. Do you remember actually filming that?
Oh, when I explain to him who I am. That was a great day, you know? I went back to the set ’cause we actually shot that movie in sequence, so we were literally doing the last step in the movie for me — because in real time, I think I worked maybe eighteen days on Unbreakable, but I was in Philly like two and a half months, ’cause they let him shoot it in sequence.
How do you understand Mr. Glass’ fashion sense?
He wears clothes that speak to the grandeur of who he believes he is. In his mind, he could be the Lex Luthor of that comic book. He doesn’t have a superpower, but he’s smarter than anybody else, and he dresses with a grandeur that makes him larger than life and bigger than most people believed that he would be.
For this new movie, what was it like to experience James McAvoy’s multiple-personality performance close-up?
It’s mesmerizing. If you watch Eddie Murphy in Dr. Dolittle, there’s that scene where he’s every character at the dinner table. Come on… How the fuck do you do that? There were times where I was sitting in front of McAvoy and there’s four people having a conversation with me, and sometimes they stop and argue with each other, and then they come back to me. I’m like, “Oh, shit.” This is acting class shit that you can’t find anywhere. You don’t have the opportunity to explore your capabilities in terms of how many people can you create in one instant. We saw seven personalities in the first movie, but in this one, we get to maybe fifteen or sixteen, which is awesome. He could keep them all in a specific place, where he can reach in there and grab them, and give them their own specific voice, their own diction, their own attitude, all that shit’s there. They also have their own body mannerisms, which is like, how do you keep up with that shit?
Obviously you and Bruce Willis have crossed paths a number of times. Was anything different about this one?
Well, over the years, you develop a comfortability working with certain people, especially if you go back and forth doing, through movies, years and time. There’s a comfort and ease of stepping into a space with that person, where you don’t have to feel them out. You kind of know that I can go as far as I want to go and this guy is gonna be there.
Some people were taken aback to see David Gunn locked in the asylum in the Glass trailer with your character and McAvoy’s.
I’m not taken aback by it. The fact that he is locked up — well, I mean, he’s a vigilante, you know, and what he’s doing, while it’s morally correct, cops want to charge him with something to make him stop, and the way you do that and not make him a criminal is to say, “Well, he’s got some mental problems, so let’s study him before we judge him.” It’s easier to put him in a place and psychologically test him then just charge him and say, “You’re a criminal.” Meanwhile, Elijah is sitting there trying to figure out, “OK, what do I do to this guy to get him with that guy so that I can see what these two guys are? How can I bring out the most in them to prove my particular theory about who these people are?”
There were rumors that your Die Hard With A Vengeance character might come back in a future movie. Was that ever real? Did you talk with Bruce about that?
Only person who ever talked to me about that was [famed cameo actor] Radioman. Nobody else said anything!