Entertainment

Will Smith says 'Collateral Beauty' the perfect film for Christmas

By Liz Braun, Postmedia Network

NEW YORK – Will Smith is a force of nature.

Loud, funny and completely engaging, the actor takes over a hotel conference room here to talk to reporters about Collateral Beauty, a new holiday drama with an all-star ensemble cast that includes Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley.

Smith holds the centre of the story as Howard, a man who cannot recover from a family tragedy; Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena are cast as his worried friends and Naomie Harris plays a grief counsellor.

Collateral Beauty is set in New York at Christmas time. The movie hints at the magic of the season and carefully mixes humour into a tale of heartbreak and redemption.

Smith has been famous his entire adult life, first winning attention as a rapper and then capturing a permanent spot in the general consciousness with TV’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He made his film debut as part of an ensemble cast in Where the Day Takes You (1992) and moved quickly to star status in the ‘90s via films such as Six Degrees of Separation, Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black.

The actor has an enviable track record and has been ranked in the past as the most bankable actor worldwide, with career box office earnings somewhere around the $7 billion mark and all the usual accoutrements: Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy and Tony Award nominations, three Grammys and dozens of other such honours, as well as recognition on the ‘Most Sexy’ and ’Most Powerful’ lists that abound in the biz.

Smith’s celebrity increased with his marriage to fellow actor Jada Pinkett. Their children, Willow and Jaden, have followed in their parents’ footsteps, making entertainment a family affair in the Smith household.

What specifically appealed to you about doing the film Collateral Beauty?

“It spoke to that Christmas flavour that I remember growing up from It’s A Wonderful Life and those types of films that are right on the edge of fantasy, with that Christmas magic, but dealing with things that are deeply and powerfully real and human … There was a timing in my life also with this film, with the pursuit of the ideas. I loved that this was a guy who had the world on a string. Everything was perfect. He had life figured out! And then suffered a loss and had to make his way back to even believing there was a possibility to have joy again. I loved that journey … the pain and joy and growth are all inexorably bound.”

Did making the film change how you would approach loss in real life?

“I was going to avoid answering that. I don’t want to bring this press conference down! But when I was working on the film my father was diagnosed with cancer and he was given six weeks. So it was a truly beautiful time for us, as I was in [the movie character] Howard’s mind, studying and reading all the different religious bases for being able to find an answer for how we recover from this kind of loss. And sharing that with my father … everything from the Tibetan Book of the Dead to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, everything that you possibly do to deal with the inevitable pain of death. I was able to do that as Howard, and also able to share and work on that with my father. So this movie and these ideas have changed me forever. It was the perfect art/life confluence.”

Your character has to deal with Love, Time and Death. What’s your take on that in your own life?

“Nothing tortures me more than love! There is nothing in life I experience more pain around than love! Even in dealing with my father’s passing, when it comes back to me, and how I react to that, is, ‘Jada you not loving me enough!’ [Laughs] Everything is about, ‘Listen, if we’re gonna die we need to spend more time together!’ The craving for love for me is far beyond the loss of death and far beyond the punishment of time.”

So you mean Love as a life-altering event?

“I’ve had huge life changing moments, almost all centred around love. I am a serious, hopeless romantic. I think the greatest experience of love I’ve ever had was when my daughter was born. When Willow was born, I set her down with Jada, just looking at the two of them; that was as full as I ever have been. That was the maximum amount of love I’ve ever experienced in my life, the safest and purest and happiest that I’ve ever been in my life. And I think subconsciously I chase that every day of my life.”

Would you agree that your recent movies suggest a move from ‘bad boy’ to more serious characters?

“I think I’m just having more life experiences that are allowing me to be able to connect to different, more complex, deeper human emotions. As an artist, I am my tool. So my life experience is my well … I’ve been in the spotlight for 30 years. I released my first record in 1986. So I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. The things I was doing had a beautiful, youthful exuberance to them, and I try to maintain some piece of that, but the things I think about, and who I am, and how I live on a daily basis is a little more complex than the Fresh Prince. I’m trying not to cling backwards but to go bravely into the unknown and potentially unaccepted. I want to be able to courageously go forward and find those new things.”

Collateral Beauty opens in theatres Friday, Dec. 16.

THE WILL SMITH LIST

Everyone has his or her own Will Smith favourite movie. Out of the actor’s career total of about 30 feature films, here are 10 we’d vote for every time:

MEN IN BLACK (1997)

Who better to protect the earth from marauding extra-terrestrials than Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones?

HITCH (2005)

Romantic comedy about a ‘date doctor’ puts Smith opposite Eva Mendes and their chemistry is just about perfect.

BAD BOYS (1995)

Smith and Martin Lawrence are the coolest cops in Miami in this crime/comedy hybrid. What we have here is explosive action. With quips.

FOCUS (2015)

Cross and double-cross. And triple cross, with Smith and Margot Robbie as career criminals in a game of who’s zooming who? Crime and punishment, people.

CONCUSSION (2015)

A drama about real-life neuropathologist Bennet Omalu and his groundbreaking work on sport and brain injury, specifically, connecting football and CTE.

ALI (2001)

Biopic of legendary fighter Muhammad Ali won Smith an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. (His work in The Pursuit of Happyness earned him the same nomination.)

HANCOCK (2008)

Even before Deadpool there was a badly behaved superhero who irritated authorities as he stopped the bad guys. Smith at his comedy/action combo best, with Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman.

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (1993)

Sneaky social satire about white privilege on the Upper East Side and the black interloper who tricks his hosts at their own pretentious game.

I AM LEGEND (2007)

Post-apocalyptic drama has Smith as a surviving human in New York, immune to the virus that has turned much of humanity into monsters and desperate to find a cure.

ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)

Corruption in high places. Action and intrigue will keep you on the edge of your seat in this drama about an innocent man (Smith) enmeshed by chance in a political crime. Cast includes Gene Hackman and Barry Pepper.

Twitter: @LizBraunSun

LBraun@postmedia.com