Opening this weekend is Will Smith‘s latest film Seven Pounds directed by Gabriele Muccino. The story is about an IRS agent with a fateful secret who embarks on a journey to help change the lives of seven strangers. Will Smith struts his emotional baggage stuff in this film, showing us, yet again that the man can take on anything.
Will Smith has got to be one of the most humble and laid back movie stars of all time. He could make almost any movie sky-rocket at the box office and yet at the heart of it all he’s a father and a husband. As he says himself, “I’m just so dude at the dinner table.”
Check out the interview below where Will Smith talks about tackling his role in Seven Pounds, having to get busy with Rosario Dawson, his thoughts on our new President, and even some info on The Karate Kid and the sequel to I Am Legend.
You know you’ve been referred to a lot in the past year as the biggest movie star on planet Earth…
…so how does the view look from there?
It’s ah…I read…I wish I could remember. You know my wife always remembers where she read stuff and it sounds cool when you can say the author and stuff, but I read somebody said he was a mountain climber and he set his mind, I want to climb Everest. I’m going to do it. And he climbed and he got to the top and realized he couldn’t breathe and the only thought that he had was how the hell can I get down off of here as fast as I can? It’s like this weird thing that kicks in your mind like be careful what you wish for, you know? You go and you fight to get there and there’s this discomfort that sets in. It’s really the last probably year and a half have been kind of scary and a little bit frustrating for me. I had an epiphany after working on “Seven Pounds”. I realized that part of that feeling was that I was looking at my life and I was looking at my self and my future too much around these movies. And after “Seven Pounds” l just had this huge epiphany of how much more I want to be, how much more I want to do, and the idea of living in service to humanity vs. living in service to the commerce of my movies. And that explosion just totally washed away that sort of scary uncomfortable feeling. It’s like however people look at me as a movie star or not….I want to be remembered as a man who cared about people and dedicated his life to making the world better, so with that I went from thinking of myself in this high place to damn I’ve got so much to do. I need to get to work. And that’s so much better a place for me emotionally.
I’m just so dude at the dinner table, you know?
How do you manage to stay so humble amidst of all your success?
I think because I’m scared. It’s like I’m so grateful to be in a position that I’m in. To have been blessed with the things I’ve been blessed with and it’s like I was with Redman the other day in Chicago. He came up and said, “Man, listen. I’ve got this relationship that I’m trying to make work, man. I’m telling you. If you and Jada don’t work, I’m done”. And it was like wow, he meant it. He was like the only reason that he’s even going to try is because of what he saw in Jada and I. That so terrifies me that there are people’s lives that I can affect like that. Just with little stuff like not even having to do anything big. So it’s like I don’t want to break that. I don’t want to damage other people’s lives in that way, so I think it really keeps me humble and grounded because I don’t totally feel like I’ve got it. Shoot, I got this. It’s like I might mess something up and it sort of keeps me in a place where I’m really focused and paying attention and I just don’t want to step wrongly.
Does this mean you want to make movies with life messages from now on?
Well not message movies. I was attracted to “Seven Pounds” not because there was a fantastic one-liner that I could sell around the world very easily, you know? I was attracted to “Seven Pounds” because there were ideas. There were emotions. There were parts of this character that I was hiding myself from. I took “Seven Pounds” almost as a self-examination, as a self-exploration. Jada said something to me a few months ago. She said, “you know it’s funny how much [you are] rejecting this character. You know that you are Ben, right?” I was like “what?” She was like, “the reason you’re so nice and the reason you fight so hard to be up top is because you’re at war with that guy inside of you.” I was like damn that’s deep lady! That’s what I realized it’s like the projects I was choosing and everything had to be okay in the end or it emotionally hurt me.
So now my sensibilities are becoming slightly less delicate and I may be able to venture out a little bit more into the world of emotional and artistic ambiguity in a way that it strikes me as more authentic but it’s terrifying for me just as a child growing up. It’s like I needed to know and my grandmother made sure I knew and God is going to make everything okay. So however scary you get, however bad life is just know that there’s somebody in a high place that’s on your side. So like to play a character who doesn’t necessarily believe that—to feel like he has to fix it. God made a mistake and it’s his responsibility to fix it and how to carry that emotional weight is a terrifying space for me emotionally and artistically.
How was the trauma you dealt with in this film different from some of your other films and how do you prepare for all those different types?
I’ve been exploring the idea of trauma and the relationship between trauma and continuing life. So with “I Am Legend” and then into “Hancock” and now with “Seven Pounds” I’m starting the character on trauma. And then I was asking the question, “well, what’s the difference between-you know-someone who falls into depression and someone like Nelson Mandela or Muhammad Ali or Gandhi or Mother Theresa?” They just keep going in the face of the ultimate weight of humanity and life. The thing that I discovered on “Seven Pounds” is it’s purpose. When you have a purpose, when you wake up and you’ve dedicated your life to something beyond yourself, all is bearable, right? It just so exploded in my mind with this movie and with this character and if there’s been a movie in my career that I would say changed my life it’s “Seven Pounds”.
Rosario said that you were kind of shy about the love scenes and that you may have put them off a little bit. Was that the case?
For me, my grandmother and my mother were really firm about how men are supposed to treat women. I started driving and you know when you start driving you’re excited. I would run down and go hop in the car and start it and I’m ready and my grandmother would just stand outside. And she would just stand…oh sorry grandma. I’d get out and run around and open the door, you know so she could get in and close the door. So it’s like, for me, my worst nightmare is for an actress to come on my set and feel like I’m taking this as an opportunity to get a little quickie feel, you know, some legal cheating going on. I just need, specifically, women to be comfortable around me. I just don’t want to feel like I’m that dude and doing a love scene and her clothes are off and all of that, it just puts me in my defensive space but it also hurts the acting if I’m in that space. You’ve got to find a comfortable space to feel free and your hand can brush up against her and all of that and it’s not “oh, excuse me,” you know?
How was Jada about all that? Was she cool with it?
Oh, Jada said “listen, I know you are uncomfortable but you better not embarrass me.” She was like, “When you do that love scene you better show them what you’re working with.”
She didn’t come to the set that day?
No, no she didn’t come to the set. I asked her to come to the set and she was like “Are you stupid?”
The aspect of the film with the connection of love…can you talk about how you developed that relationship?
There’s an idea that was one of the central concepts that I fell in love with in this movie. We talked about trauma and there’s an idea that in the west we think about things in straight line. There’s birth, there’s life, and then there’s death. And at death there’s a cliff and it’s the you know the end of the world and everything’s over. That’s not really how things work and if you take the ends of that line and bend it into a circle, there’s birth, life, death and then re-birth. Re-birth is inevitable. There’s nothing that can happen. There’s no literal or figurative death. You lose your job, you get divorced, anything like that. When it’s winter, everything dies. The spring is always coming. That’s just the way that it works, right?
This is a character didn’t realize that. He didn’t realize that the spring and the metaphor of the spring being new love. He didn’t know that he could fall in love again. He didn’t know that what got broken could be repaired. I loved that transformative power of love and that idea that you can’t destroy the crops just because it’s winter. You’ve got to stay prepared. Yes, your partner died or you lost your job, you lost your house-you know- you didn’t graduate when you were supposed to graduate but relax, relax. Please just pay attention. Stay focused because the spring is coming but you’ve got to be there and be prepared to catch the wave of new life and this movie is almost a cautionary tale because Ben Thomas realized it too late. He didn’t know and he set this thing in motion. He did this. He was trying to fix it and he set this thing in motion and he missed the natural tide, you know? I don’t know. I could do that for hours but I just love that concept.
Have you ever had one of those moments, you know, those winters when you didn’t think or know that spring would come or were you always a positive person?
For me it was probably my divorce was one of the most emotionally devastating things I’ve ever experienced just for a lot of reasons. I had a 2-year old and the whole idea of failure. That idea that I was too weak to make something work was just devastating for me. The idea that somebody could not love me anymore and all of those things were going through my head and I really just gave up and I think that was the most devastating part. It’s like I don’t mind if Mike Tyson knocks me clean the hell out and I get hit when I’m swinging, but you can’t be cowering in the corner and get knocked out, you know? I just hated that feeling.
Did you take this character home with you because he’s so different than your own personality?
And did Jada comment that you’re too much of a downer for a little while?
No, you know what? It’s crazy. When you start to program a character you don’t realize that when it’s sinking. It’s such a slow process, you know, you’re working on it every day but you don’t realize the adjustment. I remember one night we’re sitting at dinner and Jayden is Mr. Reality. He keeps me really informed about what’s going on in the house and he tells me the truth all the time. So we’re sitting at dinner, you know family dinner is a big thing in our house and it’s really quiet. So I lean over to Jayden—he’s my man. I say, “Hey Jayden, why is it so quiet?” He said, “Cause you look crazy!” (laughter)
One of the ideas with the character is that he’s trying to determine if someone’s a good person. So we talked about people all wear masks. You wear your sensitive lover mask, you know when it’s one of those special nights. You wear your disciplinarian mask when you’re dealing with your kids. You wear your law abiding citizen mask when you get pulled over by the police. And people have all these masks that they put on, so we developed this thing where my character is trying to look under people’s masks, right? So he’s literally trying to see if he can see around and under people’s masks but while he’s keeping his on. So I developed this really bizarre kind of behavior, you know, and if somebody would turn their eyes away, I would look. And I programmed it so much and I didn’t realize so I’m sitting at the dinner table, you know? I hadn’t even noticed that I had gotten to that place.
Has any role ever affected you this much?
On “Six Degrees of Separation” I got really messed up for awhile because I wasn’t aware. I didn’t know that when you reprogram your instincts that way, you really are changing yourself. And the movie was over and I just needed to talk to Stockard Channing and I was like why do I need to call Stockard? And I call and say “hey Stockard. How you doing?” and she’s like “Hey, Will”. I’m like “Hey” and I’m just like, “Oh my God. I’m falling in love with Stockard Channing.” I didn’t realize that. So at least this time I was prepared for the potential of it so it took me about 4 to 6 weeks to really just get back and remember who I was but it can be….it changes everything. Like for “Ali” it was great because it was like I was in shape and I was strong and it sort of changed things with Jada and I for “Ali”, you know?
When you were kid did anybody ever do some random act of kindness for you or even as an adult? Did anyone ever done anything like that for you like out of the blue and unexpected that made you stop and say wow?
I always go to my grandmother. She was that lady. My grandmother was the woman who-you know- you come home from school and there’s just 4 homeless people in the living room. You’re like, “oh Gee-Gee”. Oh we’re just going to give them a bath. Go do your homework. You know? I was like wow. There was always…my grandmother was the random…and the more random the better it made her feel. So I sort of grew up with the comprehension of what that is. It’s almost like it was her responsibility. She felt like it was her responsibility because of what she had been blessed with. It wasn’t a choice she was making to do nice things for people. It was a responsibility. It was things she had to do.
I heard that you could really trust Gabrielle because when it is brilliant he tells you it’s brilliant and when something’s bad he just straight out tells you that was bad, is that true?
Yeah, Gabrielle will say, “that was awful. There’s nothing I could use. It was so bad I turned my eyes away. It’s so bad I don’t know what to tell you. Please just do it again.”
On the Fascinating People interview with Barbara Walters you talked about the only racism you could think about in modern times was in regards to casting you opposite a black woman. Now that you’re also producing films, what steps are you taking to assure that some of your black counterparts are working along side you and other black actors?
I’ve never liked the word racism because there’s so many other connotations that go with it, but it’s like the idea is if you put 10 black artists in a room and we sit down and we come up with something, it’s going to be about black people, right? Because that’s what we know, that’s what we’re going to come up with. So it’s not necessarily racism with studios and things like that. It’s just the majority of the creative people are of a certain background so that’s what gets produced. It’s more our responsibility to be able to display and be able to show how it could be different. To show how Set It Off could work for a mass audience. To show how Bad Boys could work or the Secret Life of Bees. We’ve got to be able to display how that could work. We can’t expect other people to write and produce and create our stories. So at Overbrook we did “Secret Life of Bees” this year and we did with Sam Jackson we did “Lakeview Terrace” and we have a black President now so we have no more excuses.
Are you going to the Inauguration to meet him?
Yes, yes. Absolutely.
Do you have front-row seats or something?
It’s hard to get a front-row seat to that one, you know? I don’t know. Whatever our Commander-In-Chief asks of me I will humbly serve.
Is some sort of like emissary or you know good will ambassador or something you’d like to be a part of?
Good Will. I like that. You know, Barrack being elected did something like I was crying uncontrollably. When Barack was elected it’s like it so validated something that I believed for a long time. It’s like a black man in America—I’ve never been allowed to say out loud you know, you all I don’t think America’s a racist nation. I think there’s racist people who live here but I just don’t see America as a racist nation. It’s like Barrack being elected validated something inside of me that now I’m allowed to say out loud like for so many years I’ve been wanting to say, you know just let’s create our own movies.
It’s like yes, it was written for a white character, but you take the responsibility and show how it can be something else. It’s like you’re like Uncle Tom if you said that. You know the white man got you brain-washed and it’s like now I just feel so free. It’s like I’ve been unleashed to say things and do things the way that I felt for such a long time and it’s like America to me is the most fantastic nation that has ever existed in the history of this planet. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. There’s nothing ever been written better than that ever. And now we just have to live up to it. It’s like a cycle of African-American citizenship has been completed with this. So I’m just hyped. I just want to….I’m hyped you know? My company—we just made a deal in the UAE so I think that for…
To distribute your movies or make movies there?
Well, for me it’ll be laying a conduit, you know, between the Muslin world and the West. I mean, it’s a perfect opportunity. I truly believe a large part of why Barrack is in office is to do—and they’re not getting credit—is to do with MTV. What MTV did is lay conduit between the inner city, the suburbs and between American kids and the world. You can’t tell a 15-year old white kid a lie about black people. They know it’s not true. Whereas their parents and grandparents, you could feed any kind misinformation that you wanted to because they didn’t have the connectivity and the artistry. What MTV was able to create in connecting kids just of all races, creeds and colors, was able to release and relieve the fear that comes when you don’t know. So for me in my mind the deal that we’re making in the UAE is going to lay that type of artistic conduit between the West and the Muslin world.
Are you going to play him in a bio-pic?
Am I going to play him? You know, I would love to. He just wrote a fantastic end to the first movie at least, so I’ll be looking to do it when he’s out of office in 8 years.
What’s your normal regiment now that you’re not on a movie?
Oh now, it’s not pretty under here right now. It’s so not “I Am Legend” right now. It’s “I Am Luggage” right here.
Speaking of Robert Neville and “I Am Legend”, there’s been a lot of talk about you possibly doing a prequel or a sequel to that film. Could you tell us what it is and what excites you about going back to that character?
We have a fantastic prequel idea. We’re still trying to work through a couple of bumps in the story, but it’s the idea….it’s essentially the fall of the last city. The last stand of Manhattan. And the movie would be about within the body of the movie D.C. and then Manhattan would fall as the last city, so it’s a really cool idea trying to figure it out and there’s a reason why we have to take a small band and we have to get into D.C. So we have to make our way from New York to D.C. and then back to New York.
Will the cool dog be back in it?
Yes, the dog will be a puppy.
And I have to ask you about the Karate Kid. How is that going?
Yes, my son yes. We’re working on for “The Karate Kid”. We’re doing that with the China Film Group, so we’re looking….it’s difficult in China because they actually approve every word of every script, you know? I’m sort of offended by that but we’re going to try to work it out. We’re working it out with the China Film Group.
What are your holiday plans?
Holiday plans. For probably the 3 months before Christmas Jada always looking at wherever the maximum snowfall is and she holds out ‘til the last couple of weeks and then chooses the place based on snowfall. So it’s Utah or Montana or someplace like that.
What’s your move next?
I’m currently unemployed. I’m developing a lot of things. I have no idea.