King of Cool
Well known for his trademark cool persona, Samuel says he doesn't try to act that way. "It never occurs to me to leave home and say, 'I've got to be cool today,'" Samuel says. "I have a certain amount of confidence in who I am and what I'm capable of doing. I'm very fun loving and I like to laugh a lot, and I think people find that cool."
It's no surprise that being cool, calm and collected comes naturally to Samuel. He says he inherited "the look" from his mother. He says he may seem intimidating to some, but jokes, "It doesn't stop people from coming to my table and saying, 'Can I get an autograph?'"
How did he kick the habit? Samuel says he made the decision to quit using drugs once and for all when he hit rock bottom—his wife and daughter found him passed out on the floor with cocaine still cooking on the stove. "There is no formula," he says of recovery. "You just have to kind of make up your mind that you're sick and tired of doing what you're doing and you want to change your life." Samuel spent 28 days in rehab, completing a 12-step program and attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Fortunately, he's been clean ever since—not to mention that he's become a huge success. "As soon as I came out [of rehab] and I did Jungle Fever, my life changed," Samuel says. "I became this person ... I'm a much better actor than I was then because I can see."
Racial tension ignites as the criminal investigation focuses in on a man living in a housing project. Detective Council is torn between his loyalty to a community and the dangerous search for truth and justice.
Although Samuel says he puts his heart into each of his movies, he's especially excited about Freedomland. "It's about people," he explains. "There are no special effects. There are ... just people there eliciting and going through emotional turmoil."
But LaTanya isn't fazed by Samuel's celebrity status. Instead, having stuck by Samuel's side through his years of drug addiction, LaTanya saw his potential. "He has a mandate to be the best [to me and our daughter] ... beyond what he could dream."
"I finally grew into the man that she always thought I could be," Samuel says.
Samuel says he speaks from experience when trying to motivate these young dreamers. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, Samuel's family taught him that an education was his way out. He shares that same message with these hopeful students. "The one thing I hope to get across to these young people today is that they are the masters of their fate," Samuel says. "They are in charge of how far they go and how swiftly they get there."
Samuel says growing up in that climate of social change made him aware of his responsibility to his community. Sharing that message with younger generations, he says, is critical. "Without [our generation] being the kind of people we are, they wouldn't have the lives they have," Samuel says. The younger generation "needs to grasp what's going on politically. ... And start to talk among themselves and not just vote, but actively voice what's going on around them so that they can effect some change."