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Sam Jackson and Christina Ricci Unchain the Naked Truths Behind ‘Black Snake Moan’

Samuel L. Jackson just can’t get away from those snakes.

He spent the better part of two years hyping up his ill-fated reptilian masterpiece Snakes on a Plane, and less than a year later, his new movie brings back slithering memories. But the title of Black Snake Moan is only a metaphor, and Jackson may be getting tired of hearing about snakes. “Well, you know in the South there are snakes,” Jackson groaned. “I heard there were some around. I didn’t see them.”

Though far more serious-minded than the actor’s ubiquitous summer snake fest, Black Snake Moan still has a high concept of its own: the film, directed by Hustle & Flow helmer Craig Brewer, has Jackson chaining a nymphomaniac (Christina Ricci) to his radiator. He plays Lazarus, a religious former bluesman living alone who rescues a beaten and used up Rae (Ricci) from the side of the road. But when she continues to roam the fields looking for sexual action, he takes drastic measures to cure her of her sickness. It is a risky act, but possibly not the riskiest.

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“I understand the rural South because I spent a lot of time in it when I was a kid,” Jackson said. “My grandfather’s brothers were farmers and I spent time on the farm when I was a kid with them walking through the fields and working and hanging out. But there are instances where you find yourself in a circumstance if you put her in your truck and take her to the hospital—there a lot more questions than if you keep her at your house and try to nurse her back to health, and hopefully she’ll walk away.”

Rae is an unfortunately common story in America. Abused as a child, she now uses promiscuity to ease her emotional pain. Despite spending most of the film either naked or in skimpy clothes, Ricci bore the task to shed light on those real life victims who don’t have the benefit of a bluesman chaining them to a radiator.

“I think there are millions of women like Rae out there,” she said. “The link between childhood sexual abuse and promiscuity in women and low self-worth and post-traumatic stress and low self-esteem has been well established. And when I read the script, she was such an honest representation in a way without judgment on that kind of person and I thought it was great to see someone who’s not sugar coated because that implies judgment….I just felt so much compassion for her and felt really compelled to kind of protect her by playing her.”

That said, Ricci does look fantastic rolling around with metal links—and there will always be people who freeze-frame such moments on the DVD rather than getting the film’s message. “That is my concern but because those kinds of men exist. We have child rapists and rapists and those are the people who create this problem and so I have concerns about them even beyond how they react to this film.”

While men might view Rae as Ricci in top form, the actress may have actually been at her least physically fit. “I wanted her to look really unhealthy and like someone who didn’t take care of herself. The more you get into character, the easier it is to neglect yourself because she neglects herself. Someone mentioned something about looking like you’ve only been fed sugar your whole life so I started to eat only sugar and it kind of worked because I look really unhealthy in the movie. Basically nothing with nutritional value.”

Lazarus faces no temptation at the nubile young body before him. He is a man of God and sees only a poor soul to be saved. Samuel L. Jackson, on the other hand, is a red-blooded American man, but even he got used to the sight.

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“After about I guess an hour of looking at Christina in those little panties and that shirt you kind of get over it, because that’s what she had on every day and she didn’t put on a robe between shots and hide herself,” he said. “She just kind of hung out, so you get over it pretty quickly.”

And Ricci wouldn’t have it any other way. ” It was really necessary for the crew to be used to it because I was playing someone who has no sense of her body and places no value on her body,” she said. “Her body has never done anything but cause harm and she has no regard for herself, so she wouldn’t care if she were clothed or not.”

“As an actress, when you’re playing someone like that, I think it’s inappropriate for you to have any kind of vanity,” she explained. “And I needed to lose any sort of self consciousness because I feel sometimes you can see self consciousness in a performance when somebody is naked or in a nude scene and I really needed for that not to be there. So to help me, I stayed the way I would be for the scene all the time in order to get the crew really used to seeing me that way so that not only was I comfortable but I would look at anybody’s face and not see them uncomfortable, because if someone else is uncomfortable, it makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong.”

Snake Dance
When Lazarus plays Rae a tune called the Black Snake Moan, that’s really Jackson strumming away at the guitar and crooning out the blues. “Fortunately Mississippi delta blues doesn’t necessarily need a silky smooth Luther Vandross type of voice,” he joked. “It’s more about making sure the emotion of what you’re saying is coming out then being a great singer.”

The guitar, on the other hand, was more practice. “I learned to play. It was one of the things that I spent most of the time doing…It was something I did daily, constantly for six or seven months until I was comfortable doing it. It actually became something I looked forward to doing every day. By the time we got to the film I was pretty fast out on it.”

Veteran actors Ricci and Jackson are joined by relative newcomer Justin Timberlake. He plays Rae’s boyfriend, a military vet who comes home pissed to find Rae up to her old tricks. While everyone is quick to knock a musician—especially a pop idol—turned actor, his co-stars stood up for him.

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“The interesting thing to me about Justin is it would have been easy for him to choose something that allowed him to be more Justin Timberlake, because guys, especially young guys, don’t tend to want to portray people who have frailties and are less than macho,” said Jackson. “It’s an interesting choice for him to choose a character that’s so opposite of who most women or guys would want their heroes to be. He wasn’t afraid to do it. He stepped in there and gave it his best shot. It worked for me in the film.”

Ricci called Timberlake a quick study. “I was really, really impressed with his acting. He was great. He really connects with other actors in the scenes and he could do a lot of things that took me years to learn how to do. He used to make fun of me because I can’t dance and I asked him to teach me how to pop and lock and apparently popping and locking are two different things…So I never got my dance lesson because ‘popping and locking’ doesn’t mean anything. It’s nonsense. I thought he was great and Justin is so much fun to be around. He’s really silly and goofy and we had a great time on set.”

Levity was necessary on a film with such serious issues at play. Ricci had a borderline flashback when it was all over. “Once you’re coming out of the character, I think that’s something that just slowly happens the more you start to look like yourself again, the more you’re in your own home again,” she said. “It was kind of funny because, you know, I’m a prude and I do not like walking around naked and I was in my bathroom about two months after the movie finished and I was brushing my teeth and I was in my underwear and I looked down and it was like, ‘Oh, god, put something on.’ And then I just stopped and thought, ‘Oh my god, I was half naked for two months and my ass was on camera.’

“I called my sister and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe… Is it okay? I’m freaking out,’” the actress remembered. “She’s like, ‘No, no, it’s okay, you were playing a part.’ But it’s so interesting how when you come out of character and you become yourself again, you’re sort of like, ‘Oh, wow, uh… I guess that’s OK!’”

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