Q and A With… Will Smith
The star of Seven Pounds talks about the circle of life, the power of love and what he doesn’t want his female costars to think.
Seven Pounds is a beautiful, romantic film. What do you think is the message that singles and couples will think about after leaving the theater?
There’s an idea that was one of the central concepts that I fell in love with in this movie. We talked about trauma… and there’s an idea in the West that we think in straight lines. There’s birth, there’s life and then there’s death. And at death, there’s a cliff and it’s the end of the world and everything’s over. That’s not really how things work, and if you take the ends of that line and you bend it into a circle, there’s birth, life, death and then rebirth. Rebirth is inevitable. There’s nothing that can happen, there’s no literal or figurative death, you lose your job, you get divorced, anything like that. It’s winter, everything dies, the spring is always coming. That’s just the way that it works. And this is a character who didn’t realize that. He didn’t realize that the spring, and the metaphor of the spring being new love, he didn’t know that he could fall in love again. He didn’t know that what got broken could be repaired, and I love that transformative power of love and the idea that you can’t destroy the crops just because it’s winter.
And so I think the message is you’ve got to stay prepared. Yes, your partner died, you lost your job, you lost your house, you didn’t graduate when you were supposed to graduate. But relax. Relax. Please, just pay attention, stay focused, because the spring is coming, but you’ve got to be there and be prepared to catch the wave of new life. This movie is almost a cautionary tale, because Ben Thomas realized it too late. He didn’t know, and he set this thing in motion, and he missed the natural tide.
Have you had one of those moments where you felt that spring wouldn’t come, when you were emotionally devastated?
For me, it was probably my divorce. That was one of the most emotionally devastating things I’ve ever experienced, for a lot of reasons. I had a two-year-old, and you know, the whole idea of failure. The idea that I was too weak to make something work—that was just devastating for me. That somebody could not love me anymore… I mean, all those things were going through my head. I really just gave up, and I think that was the most devastating part. Like, I don’t mind if Mike Tyson knocks me clean the hell out, or I get hit when I’m swinging, but you can’t be cowering in the corner and get knocked out. I hated that feeling.
Your costar, the very sexy Rosario Dawson, told us you wanted to put off the love scenes until the very last minute! Is that true?
With the love scenes, for me, my mother and grandmother were really firm about how men are supposed to treat women. For example, when I started driving, I was so excited, I’d run down and go hop in the car and start it, but my grandmother would just stand outside until I opened the door! I’d yell “Sorry, Grandma!” and get out and run around and open the door.
So, for me, my worst nightmare is for an actress to come on my set and feel like I’m taking this as an opportunity to get a little quicky feel, you know, some legal cheating going on. I need, specifically, for women to be comfortable around me. I just don’t want to feel like I’m THAT dude. Doing a love scene, and her clothes are off, it just puts me in my defensive space, but it also hurts the acting if I’m in that space. You have to find a comfortable space to feel free, and you can brush up against her and it’s not, “Ooh, excuse me!”
Was Jada cool about all this?
Jada said, “Listen, I know you’re uncomfortable, but you’d better not embarrass me.” She was like, “When you do that love scene, you’d better show ’em what you’re working with!”
Did she come to the set?
No, she didn’t come to the set. I asked her to, though. She was like, “Are you stupid?”
How do you remain humble when you’re so popular?
I think, because I’m scared. I’m so grateful to be in a position that I’m in, blessed with the things I’ve been blessed with. I was with a friend the other day in Chicago. He came up, and we were sitting down, and he said, “Man, listen, I’ve got this relationship that I’m trying to make work. I’m telling you—if you and Jada don’t work, I’m DONE.” And it was like, Wow! He meant it! The only reason that he’s even going to try is because he saw Jada and me, and he’s believing that there might be a possibility, so he’s going to give it a shot. And for me, that so terrifies me that there are people’s lives that I can affect like that just with little stuff, like not even having to do anything big. I don’t want to damage other people’s lives in that way, so I guess it really keeps me humble and grounded because I don’t totally feel like I’ve got it. You know, “Shoot, I got this!” No. It sort of keeps me in a place where I might mess something up, and that keeps me really focused and paying attention. I just don’t want to step wrongly.
Has any other role affected you like this?
On Six Degrees of Separation, I got really messed up for a while, because I wasn’t aware that when you reprogram your instincts that way, you really are changing yourself, and I didn’t know that. After that movie was over, I just needed to talk to my costar Stockard Channing. And it was like, Why do I need to call Stockard? And I called her up and said, “Hey, Stockard,” and she was like, “Hey, Will.” And I was like, Oh my God, I’m falling in love with Stockard Channing! And Ali was great, because I was in shape and I was strong, and it sort of changed things with Jada and me!
What are your holiday plans?
Jada, for probably the three months before Christmas, she’s always looking for where the maximum snowfall is, and she holds for the last couple of weeks and then chooses the place based on snowfall. So Utah or Montana or somewhere like that.
Contributing entertainment editor Susan L. Hornik is based in Los Angeles.