TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)
|Also Known As:||Willard Christopher Smith Jr., Willard Smith||Died:|
|Born:||September 25, 1968||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA||Profession:||actor, singer, lyricist|
Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY
. This time critics were on the same page as audiences, expressing their collective thumbs up for the action comedy as it broke the $600 million mark worldwide.ard for Best Solo Rap performance. The song also appeared on Smith's debut solo album released on Columbia Records that year, Big Willie Style, which spawned chart-topping hits "Getting' Jiggy Wit It" and "Just the Two of Us," an homage to father/son relationships and dedicated to his son, Trey.Smith and Pinkett capped 1997 with a New Year's Eve wedding outside Pinkett's hometown of Baltimore, MA. Nearby, Smith had been shooting the dramatic thriller "Enemy of the State" (1998), in which he offered a sturdy dramatic performance as a labor lawyer targeted by the National Security Agency after acquiring evidence pivotal to a politically-motivated killing. His next outing was one of the lesser efforts in the blockbusters Smith cannon â¿¿ "Wild Wild West" (1999), in which he was cast as a Civil War-era government agent in a loose interpretation of the popular 1960s TV series. His laid-back charm and charisma may have been overshadowed by overblown special effects, but Smith still managed to attract over $100 million in domestic box office (on a...
. This time critics were on the same page as audiences, expressing their collective thumbs up for the action comedy as it broke the $600 million mark worldwide.ard for Best Solo Rap performance. The song also appeared on Smith's debut solo album released on Columbia Records that year, Big Willie Style, which spawned chart-topping hits "Getting' Jiggy Wit It" and "Just the Two of Us," an homage to father/son relationships and dedicated to his son, Trey.
Smith and Pinkett capped 1997 with a New Year's Eve wedding outside Pinkett's hometown of Baltimore, MA. Nearby, Smith had been shooting the dramatic thriller "Enemy of the State" (1998), in which he offered a sturdy dramatic performance as a labor lawyer targeted by the National Security Agency after acquiring evidence pivotal to a politically-motivated killing. His next outing was one of the lesser efforts in the blockbusters Smith cannon â¿¿ "Wild Wild West" (1999), in which he was cast as a Civil War-era government agent in a loose interpretation of the popular 1960s TV series. His laid-back charm and charisma may have been overshadowed by overblown special effects, but Smith still managed to attract over $100 million in domestic box office (on a $200 million budget) and banked another number one hit with the film's theme song. The song also appeared on Smith's multi-platinum selling Willennium alongside singles "Freakin' It" and "Will 2K." But when Smith returned to the big screen in the highly-touted millennium, he was ready to put his action-comedy star status aside in favor of tackling serious drama. His first, decidedly non-summer extravaganza, was the period fable "The Legend of Bagger Vance" (2000), in which he played a mysterious caddy who dispenses inspirational support to a washed-up golf pro (Matt Damon). While Smith seemed a bit at sea in this drastic departure from his usual fare, reviewers agreed that he managed to keep the character from devolving completely into clichÃ©, despite challenges with the script and direction.
Smith's follow-up erased any doubt that he had the dramatic potential of one of his acting her s, Denzel Washington â¿¿ to say nothing of bumping his salary up to the $20 million mark. Preparing to play the lead in director Michael Mann's biopic "Ali" (2001), Smith followed the same training regimen as the heavyweight champion once did, challenging himself to dig spiritually and emotionally deeper than he had ever done before as an actor. The film concentrated on the tumultuous period in Ali's life, spanning his surprise win over Sonny Liston through his draft difficulties, to his defeat of George Foreman in the infamous "Rumble in the Jungle." Smith's powerhouse performance earned him the highest critical accolades of his career, including nominations from the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Black Reel Awards, and the Image Awards.
Smith conquered entirely new creative territory with "Ali" but it was not his only landmark project of 2001. He also released his first book, the illustrated children's story Just the Two of Us, inspired by his 1998 hit song and dedicated to fathers everywhere. In 2002, he released the album Born to Reign before attempting to revisit his successful action film track record with a couple of would-be summer blockbuster sequels that generated solid ticket sales, but offered little creative innovation, including reuniting with Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black II" (2002) and Martin Lawrence in "Bad Boys 2" (2003). In 2003, he returned to the primetime fold as co-creator and executive producer â¿¿ along with Pinkett-Smith â¿¿ of the UPN sitcom, "All of Us" (UPN, 2003-07), which was based on their own experiences as a blended family. By now, the Smith-Pinkett household had grown to include not only Trey, but son Jaden Christopher and daughter Willow, all of whom would begin to express an interest in the family business.
Along with business partner James Lassiter, Smith formed Overbrook Entertainment, debuting as a feature film producer with an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's sci-fi classic "I, Robot" (2004), in which he also starred as a futuristic police detective. The familiar turn as blockbuster hero was crowd-pleasing if not horizon-expanding, but Smith followed up with a surprisingly belated visit to straight-ahead comedy. He lent his distinctive persona to DreamWorks' CGI-animated "Shark Tale" (2004) as Oscar, the mouthy young fish who ends up in hot water after the death of a shark mob boss. Overbrook's next release, "Hitch" (2005), fully capitalized on Smith's considerable charisma and romantic appeal, with his starring role as a smooth professional date doctor whose technique g s awry when he meets his own potential lady love (Eva Mendes).
Now signed to Interscope records, following the lackluster sales of his final album with Columbia, Smith released Lost and Found and enjoyed another rise in the pop and R&B charts with the single "Switch." The actor shook things up again, returning to drama by giving a strong performance in the fact-based "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006), starring as a single dad struggling to raise a son â¿¿ played by Smith's own eight-year-old son, Jaden Christopher â¿¿ while doggedly pursuing a career at a prestigious stock brokerage firm, despite being homeless. Reviews for the film were mixed, but critics were unanimous in their praise of Smith's touching, inspirational portrayal which earned the actor Oscar, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Black Reel, and Image Award nominations.
In 2007, Smith found himself listed as the top actor on the annual Entertainment Weekly list of "50 Smartest People in Hollywood," where he was touted for "achieving a level of global popularity unprecedented for an African-American actor." Further evidence of that claim came with the holiday release of "I Am Legend" (2007), in which Smith wowed again in a film departure that was darker in tone and more intellectually impacting than anything he had done in his career. The third adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel of the same name starred Smith as the potential sole survivor of a post-apocalyptic viral plague. The actor challenged himself by occupying nearly two-thirds of the screen time by himself. The film set box-office records and Smith felt it represented a career high mark for him, in that it successfully married audience accessibility and artistic merit within a mainstream feature. Smith celebrated the July 4th holiday of 2008 with "Hancock," a comedy about a fallen superhero rehabilitated by a publicist. Naturally, the film was a massive box office success â¿¿ over $600 million worldwide â¿¿ though critics were far less enthusiastic than audiences.
Slipping into producer mode, Smith oversaw Neil LaButeâ¿¿s thriller "Lakeview Terrace" (2008), which starred Samuel L. Jackson as a veteran LAPD office who terrorizes his new neighbors (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington), and "The Secret Life of Bees" (2008), which featured an acclaimed performance by Queen Latifah as a South Carolinian woman who shows a young girl (Dakota Fanning) the secrets of her motherâ¿¿s past. Also that year, he starred in "Seven Pounds" (2008), where he played a mysterious IRS agent determined to change the lives of seven people in order to achieve his own redemption. Once again, critics were rather unhappy with Smithâ¿¿s effort, but that did nothing to stop yet another $100 million take at the box office. Back to producing, he steered his son in the remake of "The Karate Kid" (2010), in which Jaden played a 12-year-old kid who moves from Detroit to Beijing and learns martial arts from the aging Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). After the financially successful, but critically dismissed romantic comedy "This Means War" (2012), Smith was back in the saddle with "Men in Black 3" (2012), which saw Agent J travel back in time to the 1960s in order to save both the future and Agent Kâ¿¿s (Tommy Lee Jones) younger self (Josh Brolin)
Filmographyclose complete filmography
CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
Will Smith is a golf fanatic.
"Will has this very infectious personality, with a great spirit. Whatever he has, you can't teach. I think the Eddie Murphy comparison is there." --Brandon Tartikoff quoted in People, September 4, 1990.
Smith was nicknamed "The Prince" by a teacher in Overbrook High School because of his regal attitude and his ability to talk his way out of difficult situations. "Fresh" was adopted later from street lingo meaning "cool."
Two albums have gone platinum: "He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper" and "And in This Corner".
"Everybody got excited about Will, but I was a little more cautious," admits ["Six Degrees of Separation" director Fred] Schepisi. "I interviewed a lot of actors. But Will tried to convince me that he'd do whatever it would take, go through whatever process, was sure he could get himself prepared. That confidence and charm was everything the character should be. [He was] worth taking a chance on."
At Schepisi's request, Smith trained with both an acting and dialect coach at least three days a week for three months before rehearsals began. "This character had to learn to walk and talk and act," says Smith. "And I had to learn to walk and talk and act to play him." --From "Can Will Smith Play on Park Avenue?" by Meredith Berkman in Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 1993.
So Smith ... called Denzel Washington "to get his opinion on how people look at roles that you choose," he says. "Denzel said white people generally look at a movie as acting. They accept the actors for who they are, and the role is separate. But black people, because they have so few heroes in film, tend to hold the artists personally responsible for the roles they choose." Washington told Smith that while he thought Paul was a good part for him, he also had some words of caution: "You can act all you want, but don't do any real physical scenes." In other words, Smith says Washington told him, "don't be kissing no man." --From Premiere, January 1994.
Smith took the role but decided to follow Washington's advice. While the script included a kiss between Smith's and Anthony Michael Hall's characters, director Schepisi eventually shot around the kiss and around explicitly sexual scenes ... Smith admits that at first he didn't tell the filmmakers about his reluctance. Grinning sheepishly, he says, "I waited till they gave me my check ... --From Premiere, January 1994.
"It was very immature on my part," Smith says now. "I was thinking, 'How are my friends back in Philly going to think about this?' I wasn't emotionally stable enough to artistically commit to that aspect of the film. In a movie with actors and a director of this caliber, for ME to be the one bringing something cheesy to it . . ." Smith trails off, clearly angry at himself for failing to finish the job. "This was a valuable lesson for me," he says a moment later. "Either you do it or you don't." --From Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 1993.
Smith hosted the Presidential Inaugural Celebration for Youth (part of the 1993 Inaugural Gala for President Clinton).
"The thing that was great about 'Bad Boys' is that it was an inexpensive movie and there were no expectations. That is so beautiful because whatever you do is going to be fine. The significance of 'Bad Boys' to me was that two black stars were in a film that was treated like a big-time film [by Columbia]. Outside of Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg, you don't see this level of attention given to too many films [with black actors]." --Will Smith in Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1995.
"When I look back on my career, I want to have a somewhat dazzling, eclectic portfolio." --Smith in Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1995.
"It's a whole different thing being an actor. A rapper is about being completely true to yourself. Being an actor is about changing who you are. You make yourself a different person. You become a different person." --Will Smith in Newsday, April 2, 1995.
On his upbringing, Smith told Rolling Stone (December 10, 1998): "My father made me a soldier, and my mother gave me the strength to be one."
Asked if he has aspiration to direct someday, Smith replied: "I don't think so. Actors can be a real pain ... The directors I've worked with are all people who are completely open to suggestion. I haven't worked with anyone yet who rejects input. So it's not like there's been a wonderful idea I've had that I would've done differently if I'd been directing." --From the Daily News, November 29, 1998.
"There's different ways that you can measure people's greatness. And the way I like to measure greatness is: How many people do you affect? In your time on earth, how many people can you affect? How many people can you make want to be better? Or how many people can you inspire to want to do what you do? ..." --Smith to Vanity Fair, July 1999.
"I just can't sit down that long. I have to be up, I have to be doing something. I have to be creating something, I have to be moving. I've always had too much energy." --Smith to London's The Sunday Times, June 27, 1999.
"I want to be as funny as Eddie Murphy and as great as Denzel [Washington] ... I'm committed to personal excellence and whatever that lends itself to." --Smith to The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 29, 2000.
"Redford was the first director where I closed my eyes and said, 'I'm not going to to allow my natural instincts to afect waht you want on-camera.' It was a dangerous scary place, I had to focus and create a characterm, not just do my Will Smith thing and get paid." --On his appearance in "The Legend of Bagger Vance" to Premiere, December 2000.
"I despise weakness. Weakness feels like a cancer. If someone around you us weak, eventually they'll make you weak." --Will Smith quoted in "The Contender" by John Brodie in GQ, December 2001.
On the less than successful box-office reception of "The Legend of Baggar Vance": "Using golf as an analogy for the concept that you can't have any fear about the undertaking attracted me to "Bagger Vance". But I knew going in that black folks just generally don't enjoy watching films about that era. Black folks don't like seeing black folks catering to white people." --From "The Contender" by John Brodie in GQ, December 2001.
"I'd turned down the part over and over, And for one reason: I was petrified! I honestly didn't think I was smart enough to understand how to play Ali. Everyone would come in excited about the movie till they talked to me, and then they'd go away, thinking, 'This guy is an idiot.'
"I was too embarrassed to say I didn't feel intellectually prepared to tackle the work. And the script by Stephen Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson was so good and had so much depth that it scared me even more." --Smith to the Los Angeles Times Calendar, December 9, 2001.
"I am just profoundly changed after making this film. I have a greater understanding of greatness. I had the opportunity to break down, define, and quantify and inest the parameters of greatness. It's really bittersweet, because I had the opportunity to be that close and to understand it and never really know if I will have the challenges to attain that level of greatness in my life." --Will Smith on "Ali" quoted in Time Out New York, December 13-27, 2001.
On playing Muhammad Ali: "It represents the most complete performance I've ever been given the opportunity to display. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, there are so many different aspects and so many ups and downs. It took more of what I possess as a performer and a person to create this interpretation of Muhammad Ali." --Will Smith quoted by Stephen Schaefer in Boston Herald, December 23, 2001.
"I desire perfection, I desire being the best that I can possibly be. I don't want to take time to eat, I don't want to take time to sleep. I want to let the other guy be eating and sleeping, while I'm working and trying to achieve my best earthly perfection. So with that desire, I generally don't allow myself to think about how it's going to land as much as I try to just worry about the task at hand and make sure I get as close to a hundred percent as possible, and generally good things have come out of that for me." --Will Smith quoted in Steppin' Out Magazine, January 9, 2002.
"The most difficult aspect was trying to develop an understandingof the black American point of view during the '60s." Being a child of rap music, it's difficult to understand social upheaval. A sign that says 'Coloreds Only' on the bus, that's just so foreign to me! That was a real struggle for me to understand how you would wake up and live your life under those circumstances." --Smith on the challenges of acting in "Ali" in Entertainment Weekly, January 16, 2002.
"I like to prove that people are wrong. I'm driven by actions, not by dialogue."---Smith on having to overcome prejudice in casting to Entertainment Weekly January 16, 2002
"My eyes weren't open enough to see that this is a piece of work. This is not me, this is Paul Poitier [the character he was portraying]. I think that I'm more mature now. I wish I had another shot at it."---Smith on refusing to kiss another man, as required by the script for the 'kiss' scene of "Six Degrees of Separation," in which he played a gay hustler Biography Spring 2004
Companions close complete companion listing
Bibliography close complete biography
Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.Click here to contribute