Where there’s a Will there’s a way.
Will Smith hasn’t had a hit film since I Am Legend 10 years ago but that hasn’t discouraged him.
And even though his latest, Collateral Beauty, is hardly a stocking stuffer, at his New York junket he’s as upbeat as ever.
“I love that concept of no matter how bad a situation is, it’s a universal law that beauty is connected to it. It’s not a hope, it’s not a wish, it’s the way it is; it’s connected. There’s always collateral beauty in any situation. And no matter how dark and however difficult it is, collateral beauty is the light that shows you the way out,” the 48-year-old actor said.
“So I love that concept as a basis for dealing with pain and suffering and that’s really what I have been doing; pain and suffering burns away the fantasies that you wish were true and forces you to deal with what actually is true.”
Smith started out as a musician and he was only 17 when his first single Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble became a hit, but thanks to mismanagement, by age 20 he had already made and lost his first million.
Fate stepped in and before you could say Quincy Jones, he had a hit TV series, The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.
Two years later he was chosen to play Sydney Poitier’s fictitious son in the film version of Six Degrees Of Separation. That performance not only earned him a Golden Globe nomination, it inspired a movie career that made him the lone bankable African-American actor.
Four movies in succession, Independence Day, Men In Black, Enemy Of The State and Wild Wild West earned over a billion dollars at the box office, all opening on July 4, after which exhibitors renamed the holiday Will Smith Weekend!
After that there was acclaim for playing Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
But once he started playing second fiddle to his son Jaden’s career (After Earth), he’s rolled snake eyes.
Even though they had amazing onscreen chemistry, last week Jaden revealed on Instagram that he was leaving Los Angeles having failed his dad.
Could that be the pain and suffering to which Smith was alluding at his press conference? I wonder.
Do you think you are a better actor today?
I think so. As I am getting older and as I am having more life experiences, I am able to hone my craft and deliver more authentic experiences on camera.
Last year marked my 30th year in the business. We released our first record in 1986. So, I am a very different person than I was in 1986 or even in Independence Day, 1996.
On a personal level, what are you looking forward to?
Having recently lost my father, these have been an aggressive few months for me, but I have become really clear that love and connecting and relating have to be first and foremost in my life. There’s a certain amount of insecurity that I am experiencing now that I have never experienced before.
So, I have drawn closer to my family, recognising that time and attention are the major components of love.
Death has a way of burning away the bullshit, so I am very, very clear that the time and attention and major focus of my life is learning how to love fully and completely and uninhibitedly, with my wife and with my family, and extend as much of that into the world as possible.
How important was your dad in your life?
He was diagnosed with cancer just as I started working on Collateral Beauty. And having to face his impending death while working on the struggles of my character, I wasn’t scared to ask any questions, and he was responding, and we were able to talk about the difficulty and the pain and the fear and all of those elements around the idea of death, time and love also.
So, it became this really magical transition. He called me the night he passed and we FaceTimed. And he said, “Hey man, I think it’s tonight.”
Was he your go-to person?
My grandmother was always that person that I would go to, to get straightened out emotionally. She was the most devout Christian I ever met.
But right now (wife) Jada (Pinkett Smith) is my greatest emotional confidant. She just gets it, she gets me, she has a beautiful combination of strength and sensitivity.
Can you still remember your first date with Jada?
Our first date? I can. We went to this little restaurant, and we just sat down and we kind of talked.
I had just gotten divorced, and she was there for me. That nurturing mother came out of her, and she kind of took care of me. She wouldn’t do anything with me though. She was like, “No, no, no, not till your heart heals.”
Did you always know you’d be a movie star?
I never thought about it. I always loved the movies, but it never really dawned on me until I started making music videos and people started saying to me, “You know, your music videos are a lot like acting. You should try acting,” and then I got to read for The Cosby Show when I was about 16, but I was too scared, so it didn’t work out.
Then what happened?
I was out of money. I didn’t have any, so when Quincy Jones said, “Hey, Will, you know, I have a TV show idea,” I said, “Yes, yes, I’ll take it! I’ll take it!” Fresh Prince was really the first acting job I ever did. Quincy gave me the job without seeing me read a word of dialogue.
How much of an influence did your mother have on you?
My mum is the type of woman who if we were going into a building, if I walked in, she’d just stand outside. She wouldn’t say anything. She would just stand there until I remembered to come back and open the door for her. I’d say, “Come on mum!” and she’d just stand there. “Oh, God, I’m sorry. You’re right, mum,” and I’d go and open the door for her.
So she taught you to respect women?
I’m trained now. I’m well trained.
What were the other influences in your life?
The household and the neighbourhood I grew up in. I was raised Baptist and I went to a Catholic school. It was right in the centre of a Jewish community. I hung out with Muslims, so I’ve had a very eclectic religious background.
The one thing that I found from all of that is everyone believes the same thing. There is a basic drive for good in this world, and I believe people want to do good and be good.
That’s really the only thing I concentrate on. I just treat people nicely and if you put out positive energy, that positive energy comes back to you.
How do you spend your money? Are you extravagant?
Actually, because of my early experience of having had money and then being broke again, I really live relatively simply, no really big extravagant things.
What was your biggest embarrassment?
It was when I was in the ninth grade, there was this girl. She was just beautiful. For six months I didn’t say a word to her.
But then one day at an assembly in the auditorium with 500 students in attendance – I was eight or 10 rows behind her – I screamed, “Hey Charlotte, how you feeling?” And she turned round and said, “Too good for you!” That was the biggest embarrassment of my life.
Do you have any superstitions?
Just one. After a movie is completed, I never watch it in its entirety until it comes out. I might watch the first half but then I leave. A couple of days later, I’ll come in the middle and watch the second half.
It began with Six Degrees and Bad Boys. I was working on Fresh Prince at the time so I couldn’t see the film until its premiere. I’ve had luck with that, and I’ve done that ever since.