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Samuel L. Jackson Explains How The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey Changed Him, Why It Sheds Light on Dementia

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey and Robyn

Samuel L. Jackson‘s ubiquitous on-screen presence is due in large part to his 140-plus movie and TV roles and his uncanny ability to be both a credit card spokesman and Marvel’s Nick Fury.

Jackson is also a consummate actor who loves losing himself in roles with the help of hair and makeup. For years, he relied on award-winning wig guru Robert Louis Stevenson for everything from his moist Jheri curl in Pulp Fiction to his rope-like dreds in The Caveman’s Valentine.

When Stevenson retired, Jackson turned to Stevenson’s tendril apprentice Camille Friend (Black Panther), and together with makeup artist Jake Garber (The Walking Dead), the three brought the star’s look as the duplicitous Stephen from 2012’s Django Unchained to life.

Now Jackson is starring in Apple TV+’s limited series The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, and he says he loves that he was able to reteam with Friend and Garber and tap into his chameleon-like abilities to bring the titular nonagenarian, who suffers from dementia, to the fore. (The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is based on Walter Mosley’s 2010 novel and premieres with two episodes this Friday.)

“To create Ptolemy’s look was great,” Jackson tells TVLine with a proud smile. “I have these people who are around me, and we talk about how far we want to go, and how much fun we’re going to have when we’re doing it. We also created his throwback look when he was a player and a young guy. It’s a joy to have people who aren’t afraid to take risks, and I’m always willing to not look like myself.”

Ptolemy Grey, Samuel JacksonJackson adds that his managers and agents would prefer to see his bald head and real-life likeness, as opposed to an old man with a Frederick Douglass-like mane, but that would bore the performer.

“People see me all the time,” Jackson explains. “I want to be unrecognizable sometimes.”

He also enjoys bringing his passion projects to audiences. One of the series’ executive producers, Jackson bought the rights to The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey more than a decade ago, but hadn’t found the right fit or platform for the project, in large part because he wanted it to be a six-part miniseries instead of a movie.

The Snakes on a Plane star also wanted to shine a spotlight on Mosley (who is also an EP on FX’s Snowfall and cowrote the screenplay) and his way with words, as well as the heartbreaking reality of dementia and the toll it takes on its sufferers and their loved ones.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, Robyn and Rubin In the series, which also includes a murder-mystery subplot, Jackson’s character overcomes dementia with the help of a mysterious and possibly evil doctor (Walton Goggins) and his magical but temporary cure and the assistance of his loving teenage caregiver Robyn (The Deuce’s Dominique Fishback).

“I’ve been talking about playing him for 10 years or so,” Jackson reveals of his small-screen alter ego. “The fact that I didn’t do it this year or that, and to finally see it all come together to bring Ptolemy to an audience, is very satisfying. I didn’t have to do a lot of research. I’ve been around dementia for a very long time with my grandfather, my mom, her brother and her sister. There were a lot of people in my family who were affected by dementia, which is one of the things that made me want to tell the story.”

Jackson shares that he also wants to create more public awareness around dementia and the elderly in general.

“The things trapped in their minds are the things that made them the people that we love,” Jackson surmises. “If they had an opportunity to do what Ptolemy does, to have a moment of clarity so they could fix something, I’m sure they would. We need to value and hold onto these people in a real kind of way, and not throw them away.”

Are you looking forward to watching The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey? Drop your thoughts in the comments.