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December 2007
Press Conference Interview With Will Smith

Press Conference Interview With Will Smith
By Wilson Morales

December 10, 2007

If there was ever an actor who was called upon more times to save mankind, no one has taken more jobs than Will Smith. From the minute his career exploded on the big screen with ‘Independence Day’, Smith has saved the world plenty of times with films such as ‘Men in Black I & II’ and ‘I, Robot’. Not only has Smith been successful in doing well with these films and others, he’s found a way his family be close to him by having some of them star along with him. Last year, he and his son Jaden starred to the critically acclaimed film, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, and with his latest film, ‘I Am Legend’, Smith is not only trying to save mankind again, but his daughter Willow makes her feature film debut as well, playing his daughter.

Based on the Richard Matheson book, Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth... but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville's blood. By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn. How long can one man survive in a world full of vampires?

At a recent press conference in Los Angeles, Smith talked about his character, having gray hair for the film, acting with his daughter, and his upcoming projects.

How was shooting in New York City?

Will Smith: Shooting in New York, especially something on this level, is difficult. I would say that percentage-wise, it’s the most amounts of middle fingers I’ve ever received in my career. I was like, ‘I’m used to people liking me. When I come [laughs] to town it’s fun, so I thought ‘Middle fingers?’ I was starting to think ‘f-you’ was my name.’ [Laughing] We shut down six blocks of Fifth Avenue on a Monday morning. That was probably poor logistics, which was poor planning. You realize that you have never actually seen an empty shot of New York. When we were doing it, it’s chilling to walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. There is never an opportunity to walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. At 2 o’clock in the morning on Sunday you can’t walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. What happened is that it just created such a creepy energy. There are iconic buildings, there is a shot in the movie with the UN, there is Broadway, and it puts such an eerie, icky, kind of feeling on the movie when you see those shots. Logistically, it was a nightmare, but it absolutely created something that you can’t do with green screen, and you can’t do shooting another city instead of New York.

What about the loneliness of your character, Robert Neville, and the madness he begins to feel? Basically, you are acting for the first half of the movie by yourself.

Will Smith: It was such a wonderful exploration of myself. What happens is that you get in a situation where you don’t have people to create the stimulus for you to respond to. What happens is that you start creating the stimulus and the response. There is a connection with yourself, where your mind starts to drift so, in those types of situations, that you learn about yourself things you would never even imagination.

In order to prepare for that we sat with former POWs and we sat with people who had been in solitary confinement. That was the framework for creating the idea. They said, ‘The first thing is a schedule. You will not survive in solitary if you don’t schedule everything.’ We talked to Geronimo ji-Jaga, formerly Geronimo Pratt of the Black Panthers, and he was in solitary for over three months. He said that you plan things like cleaning your nails. You will take two hours, which you have to because it’s on the schedule, which you have to just clean your nails. He said that he spent about six weeks and he trained roaches to bring him food. I’m sitting there like, ‘Oh my God.’ The idea of where your mind goes to defend itself. Either he really did train the roaches, which is huge, or his mind needed that to survive. Either way, you put that on camera and it’s genius. For me that was the thing, to be able to get into the mental space where whatever the truth was for Robert Neville didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered is what he saw and what he believed. How many people picked up on the mannequin shot at the end with the little turn of the head? You saw that? There are probably like six or seven of those in the movie. It was such a great exploration of what happens to the human mind that is trying to defend itself. For me, I’m a better actor for having had to create both sides of the scene with no dialogue.

You’ve had a passion for I Am Legend since you were going to do it with director Michael Bay. Why has Neville stayed with you for the past twelve or thirteen years? Finally, the grey hair you have in the film, was that a special effect or the real Will Smith?

Will Smith: That was a special effect. We had the world’s best grey hair people come in from -- uh, they were uh, from Europe. On the first one, Robert Neville staying with me this long… I think with movies I am really connecting to the Joseph Campbell idea of the collective unconscious. There are things that we all dream. There are things that each one of us has thought, that connect to life, death, and sex. There are things that are beyond language. To me, this is one of those concepts. Times that you have been on the freeway many times and wished that everybody were dead. [Laughing] There have been times where things have gone and you just wish you were by yourself. You don’t need any of these a--holes. You just want to be by yourself. That, coupled with that separation from people, being ripped away from people, being separated, connected with the dark and unknown of the dark. It’s how we would fair against whatever is in that unknown is a really primal idea. I couldn’t always articulate it like that, but I’ve loved this concept. It connects to ideas that a four year old can understand.

The cover of Men’s Vogue alluded to the idea that you may have converted to Scientology?

Will Smith: No, wow, that’s what you got? [Laughing] Well, that is a broad array of questions.

And, the grey hair?

Will Smith: Yes, that is a European [team]. They are GHI, or Grey Hair International, and they just do that, because this [indicating his much darker hair] is what it normally is. [Laughing] I can prove it! I can prove it! [Laughing] “As far as Scientology. I don’t necessarily believe in organized religion. I was raised in a Baptist household, went to a Catholic church, lived in a Jewish neighborhood, and had the biggest crush on the Muslim girls from one neighborhood over. Tom (Cruise) introduced me to the ideas. I’m a student of world religion so to me it’s hugely important to have knowledge and to understand what people are doing. ‘What are all the big ideas? What are people talking about?’ I believe that my connection to my higher power is separate from everybody’s. I don’t believe that the Muslims have all the answers. I don’t believe the Christians have all the answers, or the Jews have all the answers. So I love my God, my higher power. It’s mine and mine alone. I create my connection and I decide how my connection is going to be.

What was it like working with your daughter Willow?

Will Smith: You kind of don’t work with Willow, you work for Willow. [Laughing] It’s interesting. Jada (Pinkett-Smith) and I debate the age old debate of nature versus nurture. Is it because two actors went to Mexico and drank some tequila and made a baby? Does that make the baby an actor? Or, did she grow up in a house where that is what is in her house, that is just the life, and that’s the experience that she knows. When I look at Willow, I just believe that it has to be neither one of those. There has to be something else. She just knows… [A glass dropping interrupts his answer] See? That’s the problem, see? A black man starts to make a good point and you got to keep him down. Trying to keep me down, I get it, I get it. How often does the soundman make that much noise?

[Laughing] With Willow, she just loves it. We watched, I don’t remember the building, but we were shooting the bridge sequence. There is a building that had a temperature gauge on it and we watched it. You started at sunset, and it was probably 29 degrees or something. Then we watched it go down to 1, and then negative. Willow is out there, she has her stuff on, and she’s cold. She is getting a little irritable. She looks at me and says, ‘Daddy, I don’t care how low it goes, I’m going to finish.’ I was like, ‘Wow!’ I said, ‘That’s good baby, because Daddy is leaving if it goes any lower than that one.’

She just wants it, she has a drive, an energy, and she just connects to human emotion. I think a big part of it is probably Jaden. After The Pursuit of Happyness and she saw what Jaden did. She thought, ‘I want that.’ [Laughing] The night we told Willow that she got the role, because we make our kids audition and all of that, we don’t do the whole nepotism thing, so Jaden was sitting where you are. I’m Willow. We always call the family in and we announce all the good things that happen with everybody in the house and everybody has to share in it. Willow is there, Jaden and I are here, and Willow is behind her. We say, ‘Everybody, we just want to congratulate Willow. She got I am Legend.’ She immediately turns around to Jaden and smiles, and I went ‘What’s that? What was that?’ Never had she talked about any feelings she was having, but it was like, ‘Okay, I’m plotting on you dude.’

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