PLAYBOY: In 1991 critics raved about your performance as a crackhead in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, which won you a Cannes Film Festival award. In what stage of your recovery did you make the movie?
JACKSON: I got out of rehab, and about a week or something later, I was shooting the movie. I had a modicum of fame because I’d done other Spike Lee movies, so when I’d go buy coke or something, the guys sitting around would go, “Hey, man, Do the Right Thing! Yeah, sit down!” and I sat right down and got high with them. All of a sudden with Jungle Fever I’m traveling in a different circle, which brought the next challenge because that circle has some darkness too—drink, drugs, only now they’re offering them to you free. Now you have the chance to really get fucked-up. You know how it is. Make a wrong turn at a party and there’s a bunch of people sitting around a table with more cocaine in front of them than you saw the entire time when you were using. I said to myself, Do you want to be fucked-up and think you’re having a good time, or do you want to be satisfied artistically and spiritually in another way? I chose the other way.
PLAYBOY: You were lucky. What are the odds of an actor, even a talented one, getting clean after rehab, coming out and immediately landing a movie role as——?
JACKSON: As a crackhead junkie, right. I grew up in the Methodist church, and I pray every day. I believe there’s a higher power, a supreme being. God puts you in the places you need to be. So I helped myself, and God helped me to get to that next place.
PLAYBOY: How tough is it for you today to maintain sobriety?
JACKSON: What’s it been now, 22 years or something? There’s all kinds of shit in my house that I’ve never tasted in my life, like Cristal—stuff I couldn’t afford back when I was drinking. All I’d have to do is walk in the closet, open a beer, and no one would know, but I know that I probably wouldn’t stop at one beer. So I drink nonalcoholic beer. I’m not looking for the kick.
PLAYBOY: You were in five movies last year. You’ve made six so far this year. Is work the replacement addiction?
JACKSON: Golf is. It’s the perfect game for only children because the ball sits there, you have a club in your hand, and if you hit it great or hit it bad, you get all the credit or blame. Nobody around you is playing defense. When I play golf with other people, I’m not out there to beat them. I’m out there to beat the course. There’s no point paying attention to what other golfers are doing, so I just play as well as I can. That’s the only-kid mentality. Golf’s perfect for us.
PLAYBOY: Just this past April, your golf swing during a celebrity tournament in Scotland made world headlines.
JACKSON: Yeah, I almost killed two ladies when I shanked the ball on the 18th hole. I hit one of them. It was a bad day. I knew I wasn’t going to make the cut, and I was wet, tired, cold and miserable on one of those Scottish, raining-sideways, 48-degree days. I just wasn’t paying attention. But I could have been shooting a 63 and that still would have been the one shot they put on the Jumbotron, which they did. My cell phone blew up. People all over the world were fucking with me about that shot.
PLAYBOY: You’ve helped make Kangol hats iconic, and you design a line for the company. Are you comfortable with the reality that when actors get as major as you are, companies send them lots of swag—things they could have really used when they were broke?
JACKSON: I still need the swag. The majority of the shit I get, I use. I don’t overdo it. I don’t gouge people. I get free golf clubs sometimes from Titleist or TaylorMade. But I use the golf balls, the clubs, the shoes. I have a sneaker fetish. I admit it.
PLAYBOY: How bad a fetish?
JACKSON: I have hundreds of pairs of sneakers at home. I put the color and style on the boxes so I know what’s in there. It looks like a Foot Locker in my closet. It makes my wife crazy. She’s got a ton of shit, but she still thinks I have too much. That’s her opinion.
PLAYBOY: In a 2012 New York Times profile of you, your wife was asked the secret of your 40-year relationship. She answered, “Amnesia.” Did that make for interesting discussions at home?
JACKSON: She regrets saying that. We’ve been together for 40 fucking years. I know what she means when she says something. You have to forget certain shit happened to stay together. You have to act like it didn’t happen. Everybody’s got excuses for not being together. It’s way easier to walk away from somebody than it is to stay with them and deal with the shit.
PLAYBOY: Fame is a powerful aphrodisiac. How do you and your wife deal with women coming on to you on movie sets or as you travel around?
JACKSON: I’m not that superfine hot guy who makes those lists of “handsomest men in the world” or “most eligible men.” When I was a young actor in the theater, I could put out that certain vibe that says, “Hey, I’m available—who wants this?” There’s also a way to turn that off. I don’t have it switched on because I don’t want to be bothered with the shit that comes with it.
PLAYBOY: Since you’re not shy about asking to be in movies, will you talk to [writer-director] J.J. Abrams and George Lucas about bringing back your character Mace Windu in Star Wars: Episode VII?
JACKSON: They should figure out a way to bring my ass back from wherever I went when I fell out that window, because you know a Jedi can fall from incredible heights and not die. I’d just come back with a fake hand like Darth Vader and my purple lightsaber.
PLAYBOY: How are your other upcoming movies shaping up—the RoboCop remake, the next Captain America flick?
JACKSON: In RoboCop I play a Rush Limbaugh–type newscaster dude who’s in favor of automated policing. I don’t know how it is because we did reshoots. But the director, José Padilha, is a great guy who made two brilliant films in Brazil about cops going into the favela, so it’s right up his alley. I’m in a lot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a good script. Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson are back, and Anthony Mackie plays a new character they’re adding. I worked with Robert Redford on it too, and that was great. As soon as I met him, we started talking about golf.
PLAYBOY: Redford has been directing movies since 1980, but it doesn’t seem as though that’s a goal for you.
JACKSON: I don’t have that directing thing. I don’t want to be out there setting up shots all day. I like to act. I read the script and sign the contract. I like hanging out in my trailer watching Judge Judy and eating sandwiches.
PLAYBOY: You’ve yet to do one of those all-star old-guy movies. You know, old guys go to outer space, old guys go to Vegas——
JACKSON: Old guys rob a bank. I don’t play my age, but there’s also only a certain amount of running, jumping and fighting I want to do now. The one old-guy story I want to do is a great book by Walter Mosley, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, about a 91-year-old guy with Alzheimer’s who is told by a doctor that he can give him all his cognitive functions back, but he’ll die in a week. He does it because he has some shit he wants to get together.
PLAYBOY: You mention Alzheimer’s—you’ve tweeted about it.
JACKSON: I mostly just write inane shit on Twitter, criticizing sporting events more than anything else. But my grandfather had Alzheimer’s, my maternal and paternal grandmothers had it, my mom died from it last year, her sister’s got it. Because it’s around me like that, I’m kind of waiting on that day I walk in a room and don’t know why I’m there. I’m going to do all I can to help people because of that, with a golf fund-raiser in London, and I’m also doing a benefit for male cancer. People wear pink ribbons all the time, as if women are the only people who get cancer. Men get it too, so we’re going to try to raise awareness. I’m doing what I can.
PLAYBOY: What do you hope people will say about you when you’re not around to care?
JACKSON: That I was a hard worker and I generally gave people their money’s worth. That’s all you want from a movie star. I mean, I’m not trying to change the world. I’m just trying to entertain people.