Celebrity Interviews: Will Smith




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Laurence Washington

   Will Smith says although the "Wild Wild West" was a disappointing film, it was purgative for his acting career.
   "The Wild Wild West, what was that?" Smith asks. "I don’t remember doing that film."
   Suddenly, Smith bursts out with his signature laugh and says,"Wild Wild West, everybody has one. Everybody gets their one. It was actually, in a weird kind of way, cathartic.
   "The [negative reviews] only hurt for about three days," Smith says, "because I didn’t have a couple of ‘Yes Men’ around to lie to me. My man Charlie Mack called me and said he saw the movie. He said, ‘You know, that film was whacked.’"
   Smith says that nowadays he doesn’t have to play the high-energy over-the-top persona he invented for his television show, The Fresh Prince of Belaire, as evidenced by his latest role in "Bagger Vance."
   "Bagger Vance" is a major departure from Smith’s usual characterizations. Directed by Robert Redford, the movie is a mystical film with Smith as a mysterious caddy who helps a psychological injured World War I solider (Matt Damon) find his link with the universe.
   "Bagger Vance made me realize if I didn’t make an adjustment, if I didn’t go into a different genre and learn how to create in a different realm, I would eventually loose both."
   Smith says toning down his persona first occurred to him two years ago when he met Bagger Vance producer Steven Spielberg.
   "I was just playing around and I said, ‘Yo man. Why don’t you never hire me for nothing?’ He said, ‘You’re way too big for my movies.’ I laughed and said, ‘How am I too big for a Steven Spielberg movie?’"
   Smith says he thought about what Spielberg said, and realized he was saying the persona Smith’s creates, the ‘Will Smith thing’ would overshadow the stories Spielberg wanted to tell.
   "Steve takes on tiny little stories," Smith says. "If he’s dealing with the Holocaust, or if he’s dealing with World War II in Private Ryan, he takes one tiny little story and creates from there. Where I create, it’s a persona that overshadows all of that. So this was really the first time in my career where I knowingly just turned it off."
   Smith admits that during the filming of "Bagger Vance" there was a voice inside of him that kept saying, "Come on, Will. We can steal this scene."
   "So I had to really shut off my natural instincts to create a character with that ‘Will Smith Thing,’ Smith says.
   Smith says he also knew he didn’t want his character to do a Step ‘n Fetch It thing either.
   "Black folks hate that, ‘Yah sir, and nah sir,’" Smith says.
   He received the "Bagger Vance" script the same time his wife, actress Jada Pinkett, received the script for Spike Lee’s controversial film "Bamboozled" that satirizes subserviant black characters.
   "We were laying in bed reading each other’s scripts, and we appreciated that "Bagger Vance" is a movie full of white people and the black dude was, God. I said, ‘That’s cool. We can work with that a little bit.’"
   Smith says before filming he sat down with Robert Redford and had an honest discussion about the stereotyping of blacks in films – especially since Bagger Vance is a caddy at an all white golf club.
   "I said, ‘I can’t be doing all those, ‘Yah sirs and nah sirs.’ That’s a mistake. Let’s not start with that approach. The story I want to tell is not that story. I definitely don’t want to do a story you would be embarrassed about telling. I want to do a story that talks about life.'"
   The two men started talking about the Hindu aspects of the Bagger Vance character and how they fit with Smith's beliefs. Smith says Redford really broke down the story he wanted to tell and it was a concept both men liked.
   Smith believes the story of Bagger Vance is brilliant, and that he and Jada both related to the film's message that destiny really is within our control and not just something that exists with or without us.
   "Your destiny is based on decisions that you make," Smith says. "There are crucial times in your life where you have to make choices. And the choices that you make are going to affect your place in the world. The concepts in Bagger Vance really work well with the spiritual nature."



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