Samuel L. Jackson has been clean and sober for years, but staying that way remains a struggle, says Sean O’Hagan in the London Observer. The 59-year-old actor spent much of the 1970s and ’80s in what he calls a “drug fog,” ingesting large quantities of crack and alcohol. To this day, he knows that any backsliding could be disastrous. “I ain’t the kind of guy who can have one drink. I never could. When I bought a six-pack, I didn’t drink a couple of beers and put the rest in the fridge for later. I drank the lot.”

His low point came in 1990, when he was working as an understudy to Charles Dutton in the Broadway drama The Piano Lesson. Jackson began taking crack to “drown out” Dutton’s voice, which he says was “in his head” day and night. One day his wife found him unconscious on the kitchen floor, and he agreed to go to rehab. He has stayed sober ever since, but it still takes effort. “When I’m in New York, I still go to meetings. I go right up to Harlem to that same place I got clean. It still feels good not to be one of those eight-days-clean stories.”

Jackson says he came to realize that he has a “compulsive” personality, so he channels that compulsiveness into his career—reading six to eight scripts a week and always looking for the next film. “The work defines me now.”