Samuel L Jackson is key to Pulp Fiction being one of the best movies ever made. His line delivery, charisma, and general presence elevates what was already a strong thriller movie. Had circumstances been slightly different, though, he might not have played the same role.
Quentin Tarantino actually wrote Jules for another actor on the rise at the same time, one Laurence Fishburne. As Tarantino remembers it, Fishburne turned down being in Pulp Fiction because Jules wasn’t the lead. The character’s part of a team with John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, and there isn’t really a lead in the picture full stop, it’s much more of an ensemble piece. In any case, Fishburne refuted this recollection of events.
“I just had a problem with the way the heroin use was dealt with,” Fishburne told Yahoo. “I just felt it was a little cavalier, and it was a little loose. I felt like it made heroin use attractive. For me, it’s not just my character. It’s, ‘What is the whole thing saying?’… It wasn’t about my character in Pulp Fiction. It was about the way in which the heroin thing was delivered. And the whole fucking thing with the hypodermic and the adrenaline shot? No.”
Fishburne’s criticism is certainly fair, Pulp Fiction does tread a line when it comes to its drug use. the main point is that he wasn’t interested, Jackson get the part and the rest is history.
What would the film landscape look like if Fishburne had said yes? One of Jackson’s most iconic performances wouldn’t have happened. Pulp Fiction might have performed differently, or Fishburne could’ve then said no to The Matrix on the back of following a whole other path. Maybe Jackson never takes on Star Wars.
It’s wild to ponder, but alas, it worked out for everyone in the end.