Meet the individual who just may be the coolest cat in America right now — snake handler Jules Sylvester, the guy responsible for charming winning performances out of Samuel L. Jackson’s fork-tongue costars in Snakes on a Plane. Sylvester, a Hollywood veteran who’s wrangled critters on everything from Men in Black (thousands of cockroaches) to Out of Africa (lions, dogs, and owls) to Arachnophobia (duh), is bar none the jolliest person I’ve ever talked to at 8:30 in the morning on the subject of killer snakes.
SFBG: What was your first reaction when you heard there was gonna be a movie called Snakes on a Plane? Most people are, like, “Say what?”
JULES SYLVESTER: That was my reaction too. I actually laughed my head off, like, there’s no way they’re gonna keep that title. I was quite impressed that Samuel L. Jackson liked the title so much that’s one of the reasons he took the movie.
SFBG: How do you direct snakes? Are they pretty smart?
JS: No, they’re thick as a brick! But each snake has his own slightly different character. It’s snake management more than anything. They’re not trained at all. People are very vain. We like to say our reptiles love us. They really don’t give a rat’s butt.
SFBG: So for particular scenes, they would say, “OK, we need a snake to fall here,” and you’d figure out which type to use?
JS: That’s correct. I had about 450 snakes I took up to [the set in] Canada.
SFBG: [Interrupting] Did you take them on a plane?
JS: I thought it was pretty tacky to put them on a plane to do a movie called Snakes on a Plane. So I drove them! When we actually filmed, I only used like 60 or 70 at any one time. I used them for maybe two hours on the set. The temperature by that time is pretty hot, and they’re getting a little tired. You take that team out and you bring in the second team, so you never exhaust your snakes.
SFBG: What’s the fiercest snake in the movie?
JS: Definitely the albino cobra. When I put him on the airplane seat and touched his tail, he turned around and he just laid into the cushion. He just chowed on that cushion. He kinda hoped it was me. [Laughs delightedly.] That’s just his job — his job is to be very pissed off.
SFBG: If you actually encountered a snake on a plane in real life, what should you do?
JS: Cover [the snake] with a blanket. It’s an awkward one, in that I know what I would do, but Joe Blow wouldn’t know what the hell to do. It’s like, screaming bloody murder and pointing at it is the worst thing you can do — that will panic everybody. SFBG
SNAKES ON A PLANE
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