“Deep Blue Sea? They ate me! A fuckin’ shark ate me!” shouts Dave Chappelle as Samuel L. Jackson the Chappelle’s Show’s“Samuel L. Jackson Beer” sketch. Two decades later, Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea, by all means a mediocre shark flick, endures in the minds of many for that exact reason: a fuckin’ shark ate Samuel L. Jackson.
Jackson’s death scene is legitimately shocking. Though Jackson wasn’t a lead in the movie—bonus points if you remember it was headlined by Thomas Jane and Saffron Burrows—he was surely its biggest star. When the movie’s genetically engineered super-sharks go on a rampage and the characters finally come to terms with what they’re dealing with, Jackson settles in for a big, inspirational, Samuel L. Jackson-esque speech. For much of the audience, this is what they had paid to see. Jackson, however, doesn’t get to finish that speech, on account of a giant shark jumping out of the goddamn water and dragging him back in. As a new oral history of the scene with Deep Blue Sea’s VFX team reveals, part of the reason Jackson’s death happened the way it did was simply because Jackson was sick of reading his terrible dialogue.
Originally, according to VFX supervisor Jeff Okun, Jackson’s big speech was seven pages long. “It was seven pages of the worst dialogue you’ve ever heard in your life,” he says.
“So, take one, Sam says, ‘Think water’s fast? Have you seen ice?’ And he starts pondering and walking, and then he looks up and he’s in the position, and he says, ‘There were seven of us on that mountain, and only five of us returned’, or whatever it was.
“And Renny goes, ‘Cut, cut, cut.’ He goes, ‘Sam, you’ve got seven pages, you’ve got a long ways to go, you know? Don’t land there before the seventh page…’. Sam goes, ‘Yeah, okay fine.’ But he goes, ‘Renny, have you read this dialogue? I don’t want to say it.’”
Jackson, Okun, and Harlin struggled through the scene, with Harlin unable to push Jackson through the entire speech. Okun, meanwhile, ensured that Jackson hit the mark where the VFX shark could grab him multiple times throughout the scene. After the scene wrapped, he came to a despondent Jackson with an offer.
“So, I finish up all my passes, and I get to the dining hall. And I bee-line it to Sam, and I go, ‘Sam, you know, we can kill you even before you’re at the end of the pool, if you’re happy.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m not happy. Just kill me. The sooner you kill me, the happier I’ll be.’”
It took a lot of effort from both Okun and the studio brass to convince Harlin that the movie he shot wasn’t a serious horror movie, and the version where Jackson dies before his speech gets rolling was the more appropriate one. Audiences loved it, and Okun says Jackson was thrilled with the final result, too. “Sam called me up and goes, ‘Best. Death. Ever.’ And he goes, ‘It is my favorite death.’”