Samuel L Jackson has indisputably one of the more interesting film careers of all time. For one thing, he statistically has the highest-grossing career of any actor ever (thanks to Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe), and has straight up one of the largest filmographies ever (with nearly 200 screen credits currently on his IMDb). He’s done everything from children’s movies (we’re counting The Incredibles) to gritty urban dramas (Menace II Society) to mob films (Goodfellas) to space operas (Star Wars again). But arguable his single best scene ever is the one that truly broke him out to audiences and made him a bonafide star: the diner scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. And according to Samuel L Jackson, that scene was supposed to be a lot gorier.
In an interview with the Happy Sad Confused podcast, Samuel L Jackson discussed the film that he has probably talked more about than anything else in his life, and he revealed that the climactic diner scene was initially going to be a lot more violent. Here’s what Mace Windu himself said:
In the diner, when Tim Roth asks me to open that briefcase when I do it, I shoot him in the face and shoot Honey Bunny off the counter. When I open my eyes, they’re still there, because that’s what I would have done before [Jules] had transitioned.
Basically, the original idea that Jules Winnfield (the gloriously Jheri-curled Samuel L Jackson) would have a vision of himself murdering Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), which audiences would see the reality of the plot, then snap back into reality, realizing it was his imagination. At that point in the non-linear plot of Pulp Fiction, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny have chosen the worst possible time to stage a robbery of the diner (as seen in the cold open of the film). After a number of other vignettes involving Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, and a gold watch, we return to that particular moment in time and see that Jules and his partner Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are also in the diner and very capable and ready to murder the would-be robbers.
The idea of the original scene would be to literalize the spiritual journey that Samuel L Jackson’s character has taken over the course of the movie. By seeing him actually kill Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, and then choose not to, the audience would presumably grasp how this very strange day in the life of a hitman has changed him. At the beginning of Pulp Fiction, we see Jules cold-bloodedly intimidate and murder a roomful of men without any sign of remorse; the near-death experience he and Vincent have shortly after becomes the catalyst for him to examine his life and actions in the world.
Fortunately for Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino, co-writer Roger Avary, and the world at large, literalizing that scene was absolutely not necessary. Instead, we got a deeply emotional, incredibly acted monologue from Samuel L Jackson in which he explains his thought process to Pumpkin and why he has chosen not to kill him. It is the rare scene that defies the adage of “show, don’t tell,” and is much to Jackson’s credit that he could pull it off so effortlessly. If you ask him, he sure deserved an Academy Award for it.