Snakes on a Rein

We slither up to one of the world's best snake-handlers.

Aug 16, 2006 at 4:00 am
The place: Nairobi, Kenya. The year: 1968. Impressionable teen Jules Sylvester witnessed the sacking of a sixteen-foot python from his childhood yard. Nonplussed, he responded: "Man, I need that job." The decision bode well for the now-professional snake-wrangler who herpetologically helmed Snakes on a Plane.

Kristyn Pomranz: So, I hear that there were some motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane. Was there a goddamn thing you could do about it?!

JS: [Laughing] Nothing I could do about it! Samuel L. Jackson is amazing. We were at a comic con and every other word was "motherfucking, motherfucking." The crowd went absolutely crazy. He's actually a very good snake-handler. We did a shoot for Entertainment Weekly and there were some shots where he's sitting on the airplane with his pants down and we poured snakes into his lap. I doubt they'll use it, but it sure was funny.

Was it difficult to tell the difference between a snake and Samuel L. Jackson's penis?

No, it wasn't that hard at all!

Are you the premier Hollywood snake wrangler?

In my own mind, yes, but a few of my competitors would give you a shakedown. There are a couple of us and we're mates, a pretty tight community. Snakeology, y'know.

How did you land this job?

My unit manager from [Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events] called and said, "Jules, I just read a script you were born to do: Snakes on a Plane." I started laughing, "You've gotta be kidding. No one's gonna keep that stupid title!" I read the script and I was like, "My god, this is nuts!" I had to do it.

Walk me through the snake-wrangling meeting.

I said, "This is what the snakes are capable of doing: crawling around, climbing up, down, being handled. But biting people in the eyeballs and breaking necks is out." That's where animatronics come in. So we broke it down: live snakes, fake snakes and computer-graphic snakes.

Are CGI snakes having an adverse effect on the snake-wrangling business?

Not at all. People see the CGI stuff and they realize there's nothing as good as the real thing. Plus, it's ten times more expensive. My snakes are the cheapest thing in the movie!

These are your own snakes?

Yes. I keep about 150 on hand and I've probably hand raised 90 percent of them.

So when they bring in other snakes, is there a bit of snakey competition?

No, they don't care. You've just gotta separate the king snakes and the cobras from everybody else because they're cannibalistic. They'll eat the actors; they'll gobble up the competition.

Do you have one snake you sleep with at night?

I see where this is going. I prefer my cobras; they are very honest. If they rattle and rear back, they have one thing in mind: "If you get any closer, I will kill you." That's a very honest thought.

Honest, eh? So if there's a cold-hearted snake and you look into its eyes, do you know — wuh-oh — if it's been telling lies?

No, I wish! [Laughs] This is such a silly job, but someone's gotta do it, right?

Did any of the snakes have a diva attitude?

Not at all. If they demanded fresh mice, we'd kick them out. No divas allowed. The only ego is mine. Actually, the worst thing about having snakes on a plane is that they'll poop on everything. They'll cruise across people's shoulders and heads and go, "Thpppt, thank you."

Uh, you don't train them?

No, there's no training involved. They're not that smart.

So they don't do any tricks? They don't roll over?

No tricks. They only time they roll over is when they die. Thpppt.

What do you think is some outstanding snake-wrangling?

I'd absolutely say Raiders of the Lost Ark. People always ask me, "Jules, did you do that?" And I have to say, "No, I did not. Thank you for reminding me." Bastards.

Since the title is Snakes on a Plane, do you feel an increased sense of responsibility?

Yes, the pressure is on to deliver. It's serious snake management!

Have you seen the movie yet?

No, I haven't, but I'll tell you what: Do not touch that person in the theater in front of you. They will beat the shit out of you. They will kill you. They will go nuts. You touch somebody on the shoulder when those snakes are crawling, and they'll turn around and just beat the living crap out of you.

Duly noted. Thank you so much for bringing this film into our lives.

You're very welcome.