Film’s message hooks Smith on role
Will Smith’s list of career co-stars is long and impressive.
It includes a range of Oscar-winners and nominees such as Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Gene Hackman, Salma Hayek, Jon Voight, Whoopi Goldberg and Charlize Theron.
But it wasn’t until working with his eight-year-old son Jaden on their new film The Pursuit Of Happyness that Smith says he discovered key insights into his craft.
"I started watching him and what I realized is in the scene, I’m a producer, I’m Will, I’m a movie star, I’m all of that stuff in a scene. Jaden is just a character," Smith recalls during a recent press conference in New York City.
"It’s a block that I’ve had in my career for a lot of years and it’s the first time that I feel free of that, to hell with continuity, to hell with whether we make the day and how much the day costs, I’m finding that space where I’m committing to the truth of the character and it’s such a liberating, artistic space."
The Pursuit Of Happyness is based on the true story of Chris Gardner, a down-on-his-luck electronics salesman and single father who is left homeless after a series of bad breaks.
Gardner takes on an unpaid internship at a prestigious San Francisco stock brokerage to try to improve his lot, all the while jumping from one homeless shelter to another with his son Christopher (Smith’s son Jaden).
While the real Gardner would end up a millionaire after finding success in the corporate world, Smith says he connected with his character’s never-surrender philosophy.
"The white man don’t create your future. Your circumstances don’t create your future. None of that creates your future. Your desire to be who you want to be and your commitment to that is what creates your future," Smith says of the outlook he and Gardner share.
It was Gardner’s sheer determination to succeed — which Smith repeatedly cites and, he explains, upon which his own sense of hope is centred — which allowed him to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
But for the Academy Award-nominated and Grammy Award-winning Smith, the greatest inspiration he took was from his son, who became interested in the part when his dad and mother Jada Pinkett Smith were reading the Pursuit Of Happyness script at their home.
"It was actually a beautiful experience for me with my son because I did more learning than he did," Smith says. "My entire approach to acting is forever changed after working with Jaden."
- The Pursuit Of Happyness opens in theatres today.