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Will Smith The Pursuit of Happyness Interview with Kam Williams
Willard Christopher Smith, Jr. was born on September 25, 1968 in Philly, the city where he first entered showbiz, performing with Jeff Townes as DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. He parlayed his hip-hop success into the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the eponymous, hit TV-show which enjoyed a six-year run on NBC before being sent into syndication.
Meanwhile, Smith simultaneously embarked on a movie career that's been met with both critical acclaim and commercial success, headlining in films like Hitch, Bad Boys 1 & 2, Men in Black 1 & 2, Wild Wild West, Enemy of the State and Bagger Vance. In 2002, he landed and Academy Award nomination for his uncanny transformation into Muhammad Ali in Ali. Here, he reflects on his new role in another biopic, The Pursuit of Happyness, where he plays Chris Gardner, a single-dad who managed to go from homeless to multi-millionaire stockbroker.
Kam Williams (KW): What interested you in this movie?
Will Smith (WS): I saw the 20-20 piece [on ABC-TV ] on Chris' life, and the power of the story blew me away. There was a look in his eyes, a confidence and a strength after having traveled that journey. He personified the American Dream. It felt to me that the reason that America has been successful in this world is based on the idea that Chris Gardner is possible.
KW: How was it working opposite your son, Jaden, as your co-star?
WS: Part of being an actor is almost self-hypnosis during those brief moments when the cameras are rolling. You want to actually believe you're Chris Gardner or Muhammad Ali. And having my son, and being able to lay in a subway bathroom, with my real son, just added to the ability to be able to transform and to become Chris Gardner for those moments.
KW: How would describe the prevailing theme of The Pursuit of Happyness?
WS: It is a mythological story of what a man is supposed to be able to endure and to accomplish. That connection of the transferal of manhood from a man to a boy is the center of life. The film represents the greatest dream and the greatest hope that a man has for his ability to be and his ability to accomplish.
KW: And it's about fathering too, right?
WS: The desire to be a good father is really innate. There aren’t a lot of movies that depict that relationship because men, we have to pretend that we're not that emotional about it.
KW: Did you collaborate with Chris Gardner on how you were going to portray him?
It's been very helpful to me to work with the actual people that the story is
about. Like, having Ali on the set of Ali was just perfection, because you could
play a scene, and if it didn't feel right, you could ask, ’How was that champ?’
And it was the same thing with Chris Gardner. Chris was there every single day.
And the point was to capture the essence of his experience. We had to crunch
essentially ten years of his life into two hours. And who better than Chris
Gardner to assist with capturing the essence of what the experience was and the
truth of his journey?
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