The actor says he radically rerouted his career path following the failure of sci-fi blockbuster After Earth, and is now ready to ‘find more danger in my artistic choices’
Will Smith has said that he was severely shaken by the failure of his sci-fi blockbuster After Earth, which caused him to completely reassess his career and choice of roles.
“A thing got broken in my mind,” he said during a press tour for his new film Focus. “It’s been an absolute necessity that the movie be a blockbuster, but I think I’m going to start moving out of that and finding more danger in my artistic choices.”
After Earth, directed by M Night Shyamalan and co-starring Smith’s son Jaden, made only $60m in the US off a $130m budget – though, as is now often the case, it became very profitable at the global box office. Nevertheless, the film wasn’t widely liked, and the failure smarted all the more given that Smith, along with his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, was a producer on the film.
Smith says that once the sting abated, “I was like, oh, wow – I’m still alive. I still am me, even though the movie didn’t open at number one. Wait, I can still get hired on another movie! All of those things in my mind and my entire ‘Mr. July,’ ‘Big Willie Weekend’ ‘No. 1,’ ‘8 in a row’ – all of those things got collapsed and I realized I still was a good person.” Smith is referring to his fabled clout at the box office – he had enjoyed a more or less unblemished 15-year record with successful dramas (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness) alternating with blockbusters (I Am Legend, the Men in Black series).
“I completely released the concept of goal-orientation and got into path-orientation – this moment, this second, these people, this interaction,” he explained in true Hollywood style. “It is a huge relief for me to not care whether or not Focus is number one or number 10 at the box office. I’ve already gained everything I could have possibly hoped for by meeting the people and the creation of what we did together.”
In Focus, Smith plays a con-man battling a former lover and fellow hustler played by Margot Robbie. Some of his character’s cynicism appears to have rubbed off on him. “Reality almost does not matter at all... You need them to perceive you as a loving husband; you don’t necessarily need to be one.” But he also argues that “lying and loving don’t go together. Until we’re willing to show we have warts and are scared and are not all the things we’re working so hard to be perceived as – until we’re willing to let it all go and be authentic – you can’t actually have the very thing you’re doing it for, which is love and connection with other human beings.”
He and Robbie will both next star in Suicide Squad, a superhero movie bringing together various DC Comics villains; Jared Leto will play the Joker to Smith’s Deadshot and Robbie’s Harley Quinn, though the lead role of Rick Flag is still up for grabs after Tom Hardy and Jake Gyllenhaal both turned it down. Smith will also be seen this year in Concussion, an American football drama co-starring Alec Baldwin and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
This article was written by Ben Beaumont-Thomas, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th February 2015 09.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010