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Arts & Entertainment

Sam's Journey From New York to Hollywood

Samuel L. Jackson

Lesson time 19:04 min

Learn how Sam got “plucked” from the Negro Ensemble Company, where he performed alongside Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, to go to Hollywood.

Samuel L. Jackson
Teaches Acting
One of the most successful actors of our generation teaches you how to elevate your acting.
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This is what happened. When I got to New York, I was one of those people-- I mean, as savvy as I was supposed to be about the business, I thought acting was like everything else. You know, you start in the mail room. You end up at the corporate office, you know. So I figured, OK, I'm here. I'm doing theater. Blah, blah, blah, blah, you know. If I'm lucky, I get good enough, I got a soap opera. You know, I'll do a soap for a while. I'll go from soap opera to a real TV show, from TV show, I get a movie, and I'll become a movie star. I thought it was a progression. I didn't realize all these other things have to fall into place to make that happen. [MUSIC PLAYING] Well, I moved through the Negro Ensemble Company. And I eventually started working at The Public. I think the first thing I did at The Public, I did a production of "The Mighty Gents" that Ntozake directed. So it was me and Richard Lawson and Tucker Smallwood Otis Young-Smith, Gary Bolling. And something happened, and Tucker fell out. And this kid came in, his understudy, guy named Denzel Washington came in. And he ended up doing the part. So there we were. From that, I went to "Mother Courage" with Gloria Foster, Morgan, Robert Christian. It's amazing, amazing, talented people. In fact, I was Morgan's understudy, which is one of those funny things because you had to go to understudy rehearsal, like, twice a week. One day, for some reason, Morgan and Robert Christian were sitting in there. And after the understudy rehearsal, you know, Morgan was like, you don't really need to work that hard because I'm never going to miss a show. But you do have something. You're going to make it. I was like, thank you. So that was that. But being in New York and being in a nurturing environment is that thing. I remember when I did "Coming to America," I was talking to the director, and he was saying that he'd never been in an audition situation where all the actors there in the room were sitting around talking to each other before it was their turn to go in the room. He was used to being here in LA where all actors come in, they're sitting there looking at their scripts-- blah, blah, blah. And I tell people the reason for that is because we know each other, in a way, in New York because we're generally going to the same auditions. So if we have to go on 14th Street to an audition and our next ones on 23rd, we walk together to the next audition. Or the next audition's at 30-something Street, we walk from there to the next audition together. Or if I go to an audition and I know I'm not right for it, I'll pick up the phone and call my friend and go, hey, they are reading people for this thing that you're perfect for. You should go. And here, it's more of an adversarial situation because you're in your car and you drive to the audition. You go in there. You see the same dudes that you've been auditioning against, you know, all the time. You might be friends peripherally, or-- i...

Get into Character

As a kid, Samuel L. Jackson stuttered so badly that he stopped talking for almost a year. Today he’s one of the world’s most successful actors, with roles in over 100 films, including Pulp Fiction and The Avengers. In his online acting class, the Oscar-nominated star shares how he creates memorable characters, powerful performances, and a long-lasting career. Learn to master auditions, analyze scripts, and find the truth in every role you play.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I really liked how Mr. Jackson would refer colleagues of his for auditors they were perfect for. I also liked how he taught the acting students the way to break down characters and moments.

I just started getting into acting, even though it's late in the game for me, compared to other actors. This course has helped understand what I need to do to help further my abilities. This is some of the stuff not taught in acting class that is very important!

As an actor in film and television, I found this class to be everything and more! SLJ teaches what "doing the work" actually means. His approach to building a character was so insightful and eye opening! I will watch this again and again

This was more anecdotal and inspirational than instructional, but still incredibly valuable. This was my first class. I hope as I delve into more of them they are just as good or better!


Nikoline B.

I love how he explains acting and how to do it through his own experiences, but still in a way that is relatable and understandable to both people who already know and have experience in acting, and people who know nothing at all. I do think this masterclass gives you a different experience depending on your level of knowledge, but it is extremely helpfull regardless of this.

Antonia T.

"I know how to fall. It was hard to risen". I'm glad that chapter was over. I disagree with Sam: Artistic success is always better and more important than box office success. I love Pulp Fiction and I never saw Die Hard. Great lessons. I don't want them to finish!

Michael U.

Great to hear Mr. Jackson's shout out to the Frank Silvera's writers workshop. I spent plenty of time there as part of the technical crew back in the mid to late '80s.

Kassi K.

"If I start drinking again or if I start using again I'm going to fall a lot faster than I rose cause I know how to fall. I know what that is. It was hard rising." I just wrote that quote on a manic sign and put it on my wall, so good.

Jenna L.

Very inspiring and helpful information, thank you, Mister Jackson! My acting classes are starting this week and I really needed this lesson.


I love understanding the difference in artistic success and box office success because it shows how the alignment of our work as artists affect the numbers and magic of where your career goes next. To welcome all work, but know the business of it as well. I find we all have something we lean towards in life, and I appreciate the cathartic experience that Sam allowed in, to heal and move the next level in life.


Just saw "Glass" a few days ago here on Kauai. YES it was a "popcorn movie"--and a perfect vehicle to entertain--and advance and grow your worldwide status. No need to paraphrase what you have said here. The references to addiction ...were not lost on me. Was this movie my "cup of tea"? Naaaa. Chess is certainly played...way off the supposed boundaries of the board, in real--and Brando once said that "everyones' an actor, some are just better compensated. Best regards to those whom understand sometimes a lie is closer to the truth. Acting Speaks. A still headshot is not necessarily inert.


You have a great enthusiasm for acting. It's probably from having a very supportive network like that ensemble of friendships. They didn't teach me about actor groups in acting school. It was just a Business of Acting Class to prepare my resume. Also, how to act professionally at auditions and on-set with cast & crew. Years ago, I watched Jungle Fever, but didn't remember anything but Spike Lee in the park. So I watched you on movieclips. I enjoyed "Gator's last dance" in Jungle Fever. It was a memorable scene.

A fellow student

wow, that was great. i guess it is good to be part of an actor company when starting out.

Sharon W.

I love this class u will never no how this have helped me. Because I shall make it In this business. Because I will never give up. This is so amazing.