When you have as distinctive a screen presence as Samuel L. Jackson, it's difficult not to get typecast in certain kinds of roles. But the 56-year-old actor has managed to circumvent lazy casting agents.

"They tried to [typecast me]," he says matter-of-factly. "It doesn't work. I work very hard to find different kinds of jobs with different kinds of characters. My agents and managers know that, so they send me scripts that are different. I think one of the most interesting things about me for people who go to my films is trying to figure out what I'm going to look like this time. Unfortunately, I had to look like myself in this movie, so I have to make sure that in the next one, I don't look anything like myself."

"This movie" refers to the new sports drama Coach Carter, which hits theaters on Friday. Based on a true story, it follows a no-nonsense high school basketball coach named Ken Carter (Jackson), who locks his undefeated team out of the gym until they improve their grades.

To prepare for the role, Jackson spent some time watching b-ball with the real Carter. "I actually first met him at a high school basketball game," he remembers. "We sat there and watched the game and commented on the players and talked about his philosophy while he was trying to make his kids go to class.

"What happens with some of these kids is they become special, to the point where they get scholarships to play college basketball and someone needs to be there to emphasize the fact that they need to get that education," Jackson explains. "Last season, out of the 72 teams that were in the NCAA basketball tournaments, only two of them had positive graduation records. You've got thousands of kids who play college basketball and there are only 300 slots in the NBA. So it's important you take advantage of the fact you've been given a four-year education."

Next up for Jackson is In My Country, in which he stars as a journalist who travels to South Africa to cover the Truth and Reconciliations Committee. Along the way, he romances a poet played by Juliette Binoche. "I've never gotten to have a real on-screen romance with anybody and they told me I'd be having one with Juliette. I was like, 'I can do that'."

And, of course, he's also appearing in the final chapter of the Star Wars trilogy. Can he offer us any hint of what to expect? "Sure," he says with a straight face. "It opens on May 19."