||The WILL SMITH (Robert Neville) Q&A
QUESTION: What attracted you to this film?
WILL SMITH: It’s the last thing you expect. I read the script almost ten years ago and I just love how bold it is…the last man on earth. To even have the audacity to make a movie by yourself (laughs) – that idea is always exciting and I guess, for me, the degree of difficulty is always intriguing. The closer to impossible that it seems and the more people that think it can’t work, the more excited I am by it.
QUESTION: How do you feel about the character; is there anything of you in him?
WILL SMITH: It was some of the opposite of who I am in the character that intrigued me, in that it’s rare that I feel alone and actually am alone. I grew up with three dozen sisters (laughs, in reality three sisters) in a three bedroom house. My entire life, there was always someone else sleeping in the room with me, so the idea of loneliness and to explore the idea of what it means to truly feel alone [intrigued me], and loss of faith also. When I grew up, my grandmother was a devout Christian, so we were drilled as kids with the idea that you are not alone. So, the spiritual loneliness of this story, the physical loneliness, and the ideas of hope and fear, there were a lot of themes that were exciting to me to explore in a movie that people may think is a zombie movie. I just love the audience sucker punch, like people are going to go into this movie with pre-conceived notions and they’re going to be totally and truly knocked on their butts.
QUESTION: As an actor, how difficult is it to prepare for a role that is basically solo, where you don’t have other actors with whom to interact?
WILL SMITH: Fortunately, I’ve made special effects movies a lot, so there’s a whole lot of green screen stuff where you’re actually acting by yourself or with a green tennis ball that’s supposed to be a monster. So, my experience has made me feel comfortable in those situations. But, as an actor, it was a great exploration because you have to truly figure out what the moment is about. There’s no dialogue; there’s only your behavior, so you have to run through the bizarre stream of consciousness of emotion without anyone sparking you. When you have the external stimulus, it directs your actions, but if no one is there, that external stimulus has to be replaced by what your mind stimulates. It is such a wonderful acting exercise. As human beings we’re stimulus response creatures, so to have to create the stimulus and the response was a beautiful psychological journey, but it also shows you how close we all live to the edge of insanity. It was emotionally, intellectually, spiritually stimulating.
QUESTION: Do you consider this film to be sci-fi, or sci-fact – how real do you think is this situation?
WILL SMITH: The types of movies that I’m trying to make now are non-genre. I’m trying, at this point in my career, to fit the small ‘art movies’ into the middle of the big, stellar, blockbuster casing. I think that with I Am Legend, the design is non-genre. Everything starts with human trauma, as in life. All things stem from trauma. There was a trauma experienced and the movie is designed around the exploration of the trauma that the person experiences. So, we’re trying not to allow the genre to dictate what the scene can be. In the movie theater different people will call it different things. Sci-fi fans will say this is a great science fiction movie; drama fans will say this was a wonderful dramatic depiction of post-apocalyptic trauma. I think everyone who sits in the movie theater will experience the spectrum, versus a specific genre.
QUESTION: Have you always liked to do sci-fi films in the past?
WILL SMITH: I have always loved sci-fi. This movie is more of a throwback to the days before lots of big special effects came in, when science fiction was all story. They were forced to make a drama that was about a futuristic idea. So, yes, I love science fiction, and in this film all the concentration is on character and story. The special effects are this added bonus that just keeps punching you in the face when you least expect it.
QUESTION: How difficult was it to film this movie in a New York that is deserted?
WILL SMITH: New Yorkers don’t like when you make Fifth Avenue look deserted on Monday morning. It was 9 AM on Monday morning and we shut down six blocks of Fifth Avenue and people didn’t like it, but it looks insane in the movie. You can clearly see that New York is empty. It’s chilling because it’s places that you’re used to seeing but you realize that you’ve never actually seen New York empty, ever. It does something viscerally when you see it because even if you’re not actually recalling the images, you know that something really awful had to happen for Fifth Avenue to be empty.
QUESTION: How physical a role is this for you?
WILL SMITH: There’s not a lot of hand-to-hand combat with the Dark Seekers (the mutants of the film); it’s mostly from a distance, and because of the nature of their strength and speed, you can’t really fight them up close. It was mostly running and shooting.
QUESTION: I believe your daughter is in the film?
WILL SMITH: Yes. Well, my last film, The Pursuit of Happyness, was with my son, Jaden, and my daughter just wasn’t having that. She wasn’t happy about that at all.
There was a role for a daughter in this script, in the pre-apocalyptic section where I‘m trying to get my family out of New York, so there are a couple of scenes with my daughter, Willow, who is six-years-old.
QUESTION: Do you encourage your children to get involved in acting?
WILL SMITH: It’s kind of the family business, so everyone does it. I have a nephew who just put his first single out. So, it’s really just what we do.
QUESTION: You’ve worked before with director Francis Lawrence on a music video. How was it to work with him on this feature?
WILL SMITH: He’s extremely easygoing, confident and collaborative. He saw this movie for a long time in his head. The shooting was extremely smooth, and it’s aggressive. I like the work environment to be aggressive, when we are aggressively going for something. He was able to take it all in stride. Because of his music video experience and his commercial experience, he was able to create, adapt and move quickly.
QUESTION: How different was the experience compared with doing the music video?
WILL SMITH: It’s a hugely different experience. There’s no dialogue in music videos, which makes it a completely different skill set.
QUESTION: How much time do you devote to music now?
WILL SMITH: No music at all. Specifically, with I Am Legend, I think that I’m hitting a stride right now and as an actor I’m growing exponentially with every project so I can’t take my focus away right now because I feel like I’m about to go places and do things that I’ve never dreamed before. I’m totally focusing on creating relationships with genius cinematic minds. I want to elevate my ability to create; I want to elevate cinema, and my hope is one day, like other artists in the past, we’ll be able to create something that changes humanity, that changes the way people do things. So, lofty goals, but I’m not going to be able to do it if I’m focusing on other things.
QUESTION: How about writing and producing, are they in your plans?
WILL SMITH: There’s a filmmaking process that myself and Akiva Goldsman have been developing. We’re looking at it in terms of a team sport and not in the old school of a director makes the movie. You put together a team and you go out as a team and try to win.
QUESTION: Would you want to direct?
WILL SMITH: Oh, absolutely.
QUESTION: Do you have any favorite movies that you’ve done?
WILL SMITH: The most fun was Mike Lowry in Bad Boys. To be in Miami with a fast car, a tight T-shirt and a gun, that’s the life, right there (laughs). It doesn’t get any better than that, as far as fun. I think probably my best performance is Ali. I think the best all-around movies that I’ve ever made would be the first Men In Black or The Pursuit of Happyness, just as a complete movie. I think that my performance in I Am Legend will rival the best that I’ve ever done. And I think that I Am Legend will be a lot of people’s favorite movie that I have ever done.