A Quick Character Study of Jules Winnfield
I'm in the middle of a free online screenwriting course, and it's pretty cool.
It's from the University of East Anglia under a programme called Future Learn, and it's just 2 weeks long. One module is called 'Character study' or something. Our assignment is to answer questions on a memorable character in film, so I chose this guy.
Jules the hitman, played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson in that little-known film called Pulp Fiction, is a distinctly memorable and intriguing character. This brief series of questions helps us understand why. Here we go:
List the character's Major Actions in the story?
He carries out a contract killing for his boss Marsellus Wallace, contemplates the meaning of his life when he miraculously escapes a shooting, uses his smarts to conceal evidence of an accidental murder in his car, intervenes in a coffee shop heist, at which he points he decides to retire from the killing business.
What are the character's Wants and Needs?
Jules thinks he only wants to complete an ordinary assignment. He realises later that he wants to be 'the Shepherd', to separate himself from evil and use his self-realised potential to guide people towards a more divine path. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are his first disciples.
What's his Basic Psychology?
Jules is hyper-intelligent and self aware. Whereas Vince Vega sees the world from a casual and morally ambiguous PoV, Jules questions everything and follows a moral code, albeit one that isn't immune to change.
What is Jules' Superficial Affect? How would a casual acquaintance describe him?
Jules is uncompromising and brash. But we are drawn to his alternative ideas on life and his flair for words and expressions.
What are his Physical Characteristics?
Tall and lanky, black (it matters), a noticeable motormouth, intense eyes and that jheri curl.
It's that simple.
5 questions, and suddenly we seem to know Jules better. Screenwriters work backwards and forwards to build the characters we remember and love (or hate), by asking questions like these all through. Some they create, some just magically appear. It's the process.
Read more about building memorable characters here, and check out Future Learn's list of available courses here. They have short courses on everything from art to language to humanities and social sciences.
Also, check out the often quoted Ezekiel 25:17 speech, not from the film, but from Mr. Jackson, twenty years later on the Graham Norton Show.