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Premiere Magazine: Will Smith Extra


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Will Smith Extra

The Pursuit of Happyness star talks about the post-apocalypticI Am Legend and the dysfunctional superhero comedy Tonight He Comes, his global travels, and why Hitch almost never got made in an interview excerpt exclusive to Premiere.com.

By Tim Swanson

Originally, you were going to make two films back to back this year - the dysfunctional superhero comedy Tonight He Comes and the epic I Am Legend. Why did you decide to shoot Legend first?

Tonight He Comes turned out to be a much more difficult movie to make than I had originally thought. And you hate to lose them. I learned that with Bad Boys II. You have a brilliant idea, you have the brilliant concepts, you have everything in place but it needs that extra little month of marinating. It needs to soak. Growing up, that's what we used to do with the dishes. You gotta let them soak overnight, so they clean up easy. And there was a good movie inside of Bad Boys II, but because we didn't have that little bit of extra time to mine it… so I told myself I wasn't doing that again. So Tonight He Comes wasn't ready. I've been loving I Am Legend for probably literally 12 years now and Akiva and Francis Lawrence had been working on it for two years, so we were much more ready on that film.

I've heard about the Tonight He Comes script. So basically you play a super hero who's unable to have an orgasm?

Ehhhhh…not exactly. He's the only one of his kind and nobody likes him. He's a horrible superhero. He drinks. He meets a publicist, he saves the guy's life and the publicist says the only thing I can give you in return is their love. And the publicist takes him and begins to rehabilitate him and then the superhero has an affair with the guy's wife. It's one of the most brilliantly bizarre scripts I've ever read.

Yeah, but is it true that he can't have an orgasm?

Well because he's super, he'd really hurt someone. [laughs] But it's actually the dark comedy reality version of what it would be like to be a superhero. There are parts that are funny, but it's the real perspective or as real as the perspective of a superhero could be. You know with the Coen Brothers' movies sometimes you can't tell if you're supposed to laugh or… it's kind of in that zone. But Michael Mann [who was originally supposed to direct Tonight He Comes] did the real research of what that type of alienation is, so it's a character study and it's genius. But I Am Legend is what I'm doing next, and that's been around forever.

Which is based on The Omega Man. Have you seen the Charlton Heston version?


That was a really progressive movie at the time.

Right. We just got about 40 hours in at the CDC. It's a viral apocalypse in this film and I'm impressed by the research because research is the key to life.

You're a big researcher?

Oh my God. It, it is the key to your existence. I have really powerful extensive research teams. You've got to have people that do it all day long. With everything. Anything you want to do in your life, research is the key.

It seems that research has also gone into cultivating a particular image of yourself. Has that had its limitations?

It's hard for me to see how other people view me. I know how I try to be viewed but I can never really get a good sense of how other people view me. I felt like Hitch was a no-brainer for me. I thought that when we would take Hitch around town, I thought, 'That's a given. Please. Oh God, that's Will Smith's wheel-house.' Complete opposite.

It was your first romantic comedy, right?

It was my first romantic comedy but my impression was that's what I did every week for six years on The Fresh Prince. There was a new girl every episode and trying to be funny and charming with the girl and be able to create scenes that people remember with a youthful, romantic element to it.


The perception was that Hitch was a stretch for me. That was shocking to me. People were like, 'No, no … what's the budget? How much you guys want to make it for?' Really? Now after Hitch, there's a different perspective, but it was actually tough getting Hitch made.

How active are you in picking your material with your producing partner James Lassiter, and what is that process like for you?

At this point, we're developing everything. Three of the last four movies I've been in we've developed. So we're at that point now where we're basically running our own slate of movies but prior to that, J.L. was always first read. Two or three weeks down the line, he would give me the three or four things that he liked best out of the 20 that he read.

I read that while you were producing ATL, T.I. came to you for advice. What advice did you give him?

We talked, but he didn't need no advice. I was trying to get some from him. That dude is smart.

What kind of music are you listening to these days?

What am I listening to? I am so not listening to music right now. I've been doing classic mythology studies so I really want to understand the nature of historic storytelling. So Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell [with] the “Hero With A Thousand Faces” - just basic mythologies.

I read that you went to Jerusalem. What were you doing there?

I just wanted to go. We were there for about a week. Me and Jada and a couple of our friends. We just wanted to go and meet people and … and it was one of the best times of our lives. Amazingly peaceful. We saw a Jewish rabbi say 'Assalam Alaikum' and shake hands with a Muslim, and I was like, 'Now how come that's not on the news?'

You also went to India and came back with a deal to produce films there. What is your interest in Indian culture?

We went there and I was just blown completely away with the level and depth and texture of the stories that people just tell you on the street. One of the most famous stories in India, the story of the Taj Mahal, people have no idea about it here. I'm like, 'Oh this is brilliant!' It's probably the most famous story in India and 98% of the people on the street have no idea. So it just struck me as a creative goldmine. In India the story of the Taj Mahal is like, 'Ehhh.' But to America, it's all brand new.

There's been so many articles written lately about how audiences' relationships with movie stars are changing. How do you feel about that? Do you think audiences need international movie stars anymore?

With the nature of media, internet and all of that, people have more access to movie stars so it's more difficult to maintain our mystery. In the '40s, '50s, '60s---you couldn't get to Clark Gable or Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor. No access at all.

Or no access that they didn't want to give you.

Right. Now with paparazzi and all that, you see stars with no makeup on and … I feel like the amount of access has destroyed a lot of the mystery, which is part of the reason why I try to keep a really low profile. So when I do come out people haven't seen me in a little while. I look a little different.

Is it something that affects your life?

Definitely affects travel. Where you go, when you go. I spend a lot of time out of the country. The world is bigger than America. It's important to me to continue to expand. I consider myself a responsible American citizen, so it's important, I think, for Americans especially now to be citizens of the world. We need to have positive imagery internationally. It's a real priority in my career and in my spiritual life.

You already seem like you're doing your part for American diplomacy. When are you going to make the jump and run for office?

[After initially brushing off the question] Politics are confining. I've been reading Plato and Aristotle---

Joseph Campbell you mentioned…

Yeah, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung. Reading all of that stuff [has made me think] that art is the only true thrust of change. That something coming from nothing and the creation of ideas is what really changes the world. Our original politicians - Adams and John Hancock, George Washington and Monroe, Thomas Jefferson - they created ideas that led into politics. But now politics seems to have a connotation and people get into the management of ideas rather than the creation of ideas.

So is that your way of saying that you're not running any time soon?

No, no time soon. I want to continue to live in a creative form.

source: http://www.premiere.com/feature/3278/will-smith-extra.html

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