Mike Fleming of Deadline made an interesting claim a while back. He viewed Samuel L Jackson as one of the actors almost certain to get an Oscar at some point.
There are three actors I consider to be inevitable Oscar winners. Robert Downey Jr and Leonardo DiCaprio are two, and Jackson is the third. This doesn’t sound like the role that gets him there, but he follows by starring for Quentin Tarantino in The Hateful Eight early next year. Those who heard a staged reading for charity of the first draft of Tarantino’s scriptsaid that Jackson has a tour de force role. He somehow flew under the radar for his work alongside DiCaprio in Django Unchained even though the movie became way more interesting when he entered it, playing one of the most loathsome characters in recent memory; let’s not even get started on getting beaten by Ed Wood‘s Martin Landau for Jackson’s turn as Scripture-spouting hit man Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. It would be most appropriate if Jackson finally raised his trophy in a film by Tarantino, who has provided so many signature lines for the actor.
He did end up being correct on DiCaprio, so it’s interesting to consider the odds of the next guys.
With DiCaprio, there was precedent for actors with four nominations winning Oscars in later go-arounds, with Al Pacino, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson, Gregory Peck and a few others. He was able to follow in the footsteps of all the actors who won Oscars in their 40s. 28 winners of the Best Supporting Oscar were in their 40s, as were 38 winners of the Lead award. It’s the most Oscar-friendly decade for actors, as they’ve been in the industry for a while but still get leading man roles. Downey’s in his fifties, although plenty of people have won at that age, and he has certainly maintained his leading man status.
There’s less precedent for Jackson. There has been speculation that Jackson pissed off voters by being ungracious when Martin Landau beat him in 1994, and he’s older than Landau was then. Henry Fonda is the only man to win Best Actor at an older age, although there have been a few elderly best supporting actor winners.
Things are a bit different now, though. Jackson seems to be in better shape than John Wayne was in 1969 when he essentially got a lifetime achievement award for True Grit at age 62, the oldest lead winner until Henry Fonda a decade later.
It is also difficult to calculate the effects of popularity. Jackson is in-demand enough that it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he gets a role as Oscar friendly as Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine, or John Gleguld in Arthur. One thing these roles have in common is that it features a mentor (or patriarch) who dies, so you’ll know he wants an Oscar when he starts taking those roles.