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On Celebrity Life and Success, Big Willie (Will Smith) Style…

On Celebrity Life and Success, Big Willie (Will Smith) Style...

Ahhh… celebrity life! Borrowing from mobster Johnny Caspar in the Coen Brothers’ classic “Miller’s Crossing,” after he discovers just how hard it is to be top dog: “runnin’ things… it ain’t all gravy!”

Or maybe a more familiar, contemporary phrase inline with the sentiment would be, “more money… more problems?”

Not quite, but I’m sure you catch my drift. But who’s complaining anyway? I’d trade lives with Will Smith any day, even if it’s for one day, to experience what it’s like to live the life… the superstar celebrity life.

All this came about as I was reading reactions to a rather personal, extensive interview he gave to Esquire magazine, published this week, which I shared on the S&A Facebook and Twitter pages, and which has traveled across the web quite a bit, stimulating conversation about his superstar status, and how he got to where he is today, as well as epiphanies he reached after the critical and commercial flop that was “After Earth.” Scouting YouTube, hoping to find a recorded version of the Esquire interview, I stumbled upon several clips of Mr Smith going through one “Hancock” premiere after another, each one in a different city, all within a span of about 5 days. And each time, he looked just as euphoric, mingling with countless anxious fans, as he did in the previous city’s premiere, even if it was just the night before, several hundred, if not thousands of miles away.

He stops to sign autographs, shakes hands, honors kiss requests, and even dances with a band, all-the-while maintaining his signature Big Willie smile, seemingly thoroughly and gladly drowning himself in each moment!

First he’s in Paris, then a few days later, he’s in London, and the following night he’s in Moscow, and so on, and so forth, maintaining the same brand of intensity each time, leading up until the film’s US premiere, where, naturally, he most certainly was present, Big Willie style as usual, as adoring fans clamor for a mere sighting or touch of one of Hollywood’s most popular celebs.

But the magic doesn’t end there; the traveling continues for another 2 to 3 straight months, as “Hancock” premieres in other countries around the world, and there was Will, walking the red carpet at each locale, satisfying old fans, and winning new ones over with what feels like an unpretentious charm. Is it any wonder that he’s the biggest star, not only in America, but in the world?

One can attribute his popularity in recent years partly to the fact that, for a few years there, before the hiatus he took after “Seven Pounds” in 2008, he was maybe one of the hardest working celebrities. Making the film is half the job. Promoting it is just as important, and Will certainly hasn’t ever taken that phase of the process lightly. He’s smart enough to know that he’s not only promoting the movie, but he’s also promoting himself, which will help when his next film begins its release schedule.

Despite the relentless, unwavering smiles, it can’t all be fun, can it? I think I’d get tired of the press junkets, the cameras, the people, the fans, the pomp and circumstance. It’ll start to wear me down after a while – not to mention the frequent trips, jet lag, etc… London one night, Moscow the next, New York the next, L.A. the next, Tokyo, and so on, and so forth… and I can’t forget about family left behind!

The impression I get is that Will’s approach to celebrity self-promotion isn’t a popular one amongst the general celebrity population. It’s work! It’s well paid work, but it’s still work. And he’s definitely enjoying the fruits of his “hard labor.”

As I started out saying, maybe “it ain’t all gravy” all the time; but I’d still readily trade places with him, even if it’s for a day, and experience the thrill.

I suppose if there’s a point to all this, it’s to emphasize the importance of near-relentless, wide promotion of your work, not just in the USA, but around the world, wherever you can reach (especially given how connected we all are today, compared to 10 to 20 years ago), and definitely not ignore those media outlets that might seem too small, inconsequential or seemingly of no use to you.

For example, I recall, in 2011, before AFFRM’s initial release, Ava DuVernay (who spearheaded the movement) seemingly decided that she would entertain interviews about AFFRM by really anyone with an audience who wanted to talk to her about the movement, whether they had an audience of 5 people, or a readership of 50, or hundreds of listeners, or thousands of viewers, or millions of pageviews, etc; it didn’t seem to really matter to her. The point/goal was to reach as many people, in as many different places as possible. No snobbing. And I’d say the results, 4 years later, speak to the efforts, with 3 features under her belt since then, plenty of widespread acclaim, and a film, her latest, an Oscar nominee. Now she’s hanging with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, one of the most powerful media personalities in the world, as she continues to build on her resume.

It’s work, but the extra effort can make a world of difference.

I remember this old quote from Will Smith: “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented; where I excel is in a ridiculous, sickening work ethic. While the other guy is sleeping, I’m working. While the other guy is eating, I’m working.”

I’ve admittedly been, at times, critical of Will Smith and some of his choices (or lack of a certain kind of action), but it’s tough to argue against philosophy. Here’s a sample. Some life lessons that I think are applicable to us all, especially in light of ongoing conversations about the lack of diversity within the film & TV industry:

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