Will Smith interview
Where there's a Will...
In ten short years, Will Smith has gone from TV star and rap artist to one of the handful of A list black stars in Hollywood. His first movie was the independent drama Six Degrees of Separation, but he followed it with a phenomenal string of summer blockbusters: Bad Boys (1995), Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997). To top it all off, he earned an Oscar nomination for the underrated Ali (2001). Smith told us about his starring role in the futuristic thriller I, Robot, in which he plays a technophobic cop on the hunt for a rogue robot.
You got your best box office opening with I, Robot, didn't you?
WS: I'm very happy with it. I'm more happy with the fact that I feel we made a great movie. I've had big box-office in the past with not-so-great movies and that doesn't feel nice. The powerful, intellectual base that Isaac Asimov set forth with the short stories, and the great visionary future that Alex Proyas put together, and some of the greatest special effects you've ever seen - and me naked - I think the film just has a lot to offer. It was the biggest weekend opening I've ever had.
What about the shower scene, did you clear the set?
WS: We brought people in. We had a studio audience! (jokes) Actually, it's really bizarre and awkward. You just want as few people there as possible. It was really important character nakedness - it wasn't gratuitous Hollywood nakedness. The character suffered from a psychological condition called survivor's guilt. One of the symptoms is paranoia - which is why he had the door open, there's no shower curtain. He doesn't wash his hair, because he needs his eyes to be open. So it was deep nakedness.
Why is he troubled?
WS: He's had the experiences He's what we call in 2035, a 'robophobe'. Alex Proyas' direction to me was that I was a racist sheriff. He's had experiences that he shies away from technology. He doesn't like anything new, from the music he listens to, all the clothes he wears, everything is retro. He survived an accident and he has what is called 'survivor's guilt.'
Was Blade Runner an influence?
WS: Yes, Blade Runner definitely. That was the film that we all really looked at as far as trying to capture both elements, to create a film that pleases the sci-fi audience and also, anyone that walks into a movie theatre there's a story that can be followed. You don't have to like science fiction to like the movie.
How comfortable are you with technology?
WS: I think the concept of the Isaac Asimov paradigm that he set off with the laws of robotics is essentially that there's nothing wrong with the technology. The technology is absolutely fine, and the robots are doing exactly what they've been programmed to do. The problem is more man's arrogance. It's more an indictment of human logic than an indictment of technology. I think the concept of technology is that we will have the lower intellectual endeavours taken care of by robots or computers which will free man up and actually give us more time to read books and more time to evolve.
Are you computer-savvy?
WS: Absolutely. I love technology. Whatever the latest in-thing is, I gotta have it. I'm a serious techno-geek. I have my iPod, which is the greatest gadget of the millennium.
How possible is the near future technology we see in I, Robot?
WS: If you look at the technology of the last 50 years, it's actually advanced as a rate equal to the last thousand years. With the discovery of the micro-chip in the 1950s, technology is expanding. So I actually believe that the future we see, the robotic technology, the electro-magnetic cars, may not even be 30 years in the future. I think we could be much closer to that. The robotic technology that exists and which we studied for the film - they have cameras in the states, in some 7-11's, that are programmed with body-language. The camera can determine if someone is stealing through their body language. Now is that just a cool camera, or is that artificial intelligence? At some point, the camera is going to be a better judge of who's stealing than a person. The technology is there, it's just a matter of pooling it into one piece of hardware.
With the development robots is there a danger that actors might become redundant one day?
WS: What we saw in this film is exactly the opposite. The performance of Sonny in this film is Alan Tudyk's - it's all of the body language, the eyes, the facial motions, the voice, everything is Alan's performance. You are watching the choices of an actor that were adapted by the special-FX people, that cannot be generated. People go to the movies to see and feel humanity and at this point you can not computer-generate humanity.
Are you more excited about making a movie with original material as opposed to a doing a sequel?
WS: The thing with the sequel is you hit the ground running. The beauty of a sequel is you know the character and you get it up to speed. The first day on the set, you know all actors, the director, you know the crew.
So, were you disappointed about the response the Bad Boys 2 sequel received?
WS: Well, you just go in the there and you take a shot every time. You just see what happens. With Bad Boys, I knew, because you see the movie you know what it's going to be, so you're not disappointed AFTER it comes out. (Smiles) You were disappointed three months earlier when you looked at it! (Laughs) So, you've got to take your shot and you see what happens. Sometimes you hit it and sometimes you don't. For me now with I, Robot, because I've seen the movie and I know where it's coming, it's a much more comfortable space to know that what ever the movie does, this movie is going to hit the core audience. This movie is going to have those crazy, kind of Star Trek fans that cut their ears and s**t. (Laughs) This movie hits an emotional intellectual level.
Is acting the main thing for you right now? How do you keep the passion alive in your music?
WS: I always record. I have a studio in my house, so even when I'm not putting things out, I'm still recording. There hasn't been a point in my life where I didn't have thirty songs lying around. I'm recording right now.
Do you think you'll ever go back to making the independent films again, like Six Degrees of Separation?
WS: You know, I'm 35 years old right now. I really don't have a lot of years of running and jumping and shooting left. Probably four years from now I'll start settling down. You know, I'll be mixing one in here and there, like for me going to Ali was the best of both worlds, because I got to fight and it was kind of action orientated, powerful character driven film so.
Is running for office still a future move for you?
WS: (Sighs) I think I just would have a lot easier time disseminating my views and moving things in the way that my spirit causes me to move things from the private sector. The world of politics is very limiting I think.
As a child what books or films, do you think shaped your sci-fi world?
WS: I think Star Wars did most of the heavy lifting with me - I might have been eight or nine years old when I saw it - that really put me into a space where the sci-fi element was almost a spiritual connection for me - that someone could imagine that and put it on the screen and make me feel like that. My entire career, I've been trying to make people feel like Star Wars made me feel in the movie theatre. Stephen King does that to me too. What the hell does he do on a day off? You know, what is he thinking about right now? (Laughs) The Shining - those movies on the other side, with the horror elements. I would say, science-fiction was first forming, then horror. In The Shining, the shot with the two girls jumping rope - how the hell does somebody know that would be scary? (Laughs) They are just jumping rope, man, why can't they just jump rope!
Is it true that you turned down a scholarship at MIT?
WS: So the legend has it. Math and science have always been huge in my life, from the time since I was five years old I wanted to be a scientist, and that was the road my parents were leading my down, and then at 11 or 12 I got interested in entertainment. So I guess my love of sci-fi is the blend of the future that had been set forth for me in science and then the ability to entertain someone.
Where was the turning point from going from musician to movies?
WS: I think I was always an actor that was rapping. The music that I made was always very theatrical, and the videos I was making Quincy Jones said to me, "You're already doing it, I need you to meet some people for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air." Television was a really good training ground to work fast, and having the opportunity to move into films was a really gradual process. Six Degrees of Separation was the first real roller-dice on everything, but up till then it was a really slow building and learning process, and I'd never had to do anything for money. I think that's what really gave me the opportunity to make the right choices. When people start offering you money, I think that throws a lot of people off. You find yourself in a lot of situations that may not be the right situation, because you need to get paid.
Would you allow a robot in your house?
WS: Oh absolutely.
What household chores would you like it to do?
WS: I think the absolute perfect use of a robot would be a golf caddy. I play a lot of golf but I'm really just not good. If you had a robot that could tell you the exact distance to the hole, and what the wind was doing, I'd probably still be bad, but I'd have a robot.
CP30 or R2D2?
WS: The chicks dig R2 - if you want to hang out with the dude, and you're drinking, you've gotta go with R2.