There are few guarantees at the movies as well as life itself, but for three decades Hollywood had a reliable superstar in Will Smith. He could deliver blockbuster movies to huge opening weekends and he could drive smaller dramas to awards season attention and financial success. But two years ago, M. Night Shyamalan‘s “After Earth” changed all that. The sci-fi flick was trashed by critics, opened at a relatively disappointing number three at box office and proved to be a wake-up call for Smith.
“That was the most painful failure in my career,” he told Esquire. “Wild Wild West” was less painful than “After Earth,” because my son was involved in ‘After Earth’ and I led him into it. That was excruciating. What I learned from that failure is how you win. I got reinvigorated after the failure of ‘After Earth.’ I stopped working for a year and a half. I had to dive into why it was so important for me to have number-one movies. And I never would have looked at myself in that way,” Smith explains. “When I was fifteen my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me. All I have to do is make sure that no one’s ever better than me and I’ll have the love that my heart yearns for. And I never released that [feeling] and moved into a mature way of looking at the world and my artistry and love until the failure of After Earth, when I had to accept that it’s not a good source of creation.”
” ‘After Earth’ comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday, and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective —viciously,” he continued, adding: “…that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole…and I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”
He goes on to share an interesting anecdote about just how far he used to plunge himself into the roles, to the point where it began to affect him off-set.
“With ‘Six Degrees of Separation,’ I got a taste early of the dangers of going too far for a character. My character was in love with Stockard Channing‘s character. And I actually fell in love with Stockard Channing,” Smith revealed. “So the movie was over and I went home, and I was dying to see Stockard. I was like, ‘oh no! What have I done?’ That was my last experience with Method acting, where you’re reprogramming your mind. You’re actually playing around with your psychology. You teach yourself to like things and to dislike things. It is a really dangerous place when you get good at it. But once I had that experience, I was like, ‘no more method acting.'”
You’ll be able to see Method-less, not-caring-about-the-number-one-spot Will Smith next in “Focus,” which opens on February 27th.