Will Smith is back.
After a three-year hiatus from the big screen – in which he helped successfully launched the showbiz careers Jaden and Willow, his children with wife Jada Pinkett Smith – the most reliable star of summer blockbuster fare of the past 15 years is ready to take the multiplex by storm. Smith’s strategically staging his comeback with newly time-traveling, three-dimensional “Men In Black 3,” reprising his role as alien-opposing Agent J opposite co-stars Tommy Lee Jones and a Jones-channeling Josh Brolin as the present and past versions of Agent K, respectively. Here's what he has to say on his comeback. technology and the kids today.
On the enduring appeal of the “Men In Black” concept:
“The idea of a secret government organization that polices and monitors alien activity on and off planet earth – that's so unique! You don't say that this movie is just like 'Men in Black,' or like, 'Oh, yeah, that's like…' There's NOTHING that's like 'Men in Black,’ whereas you can look at a lot of other movies and compare them to things. 'Men in Black' is a very distinct, very unique thing because it's difficult to have a fantasy comedy that works on that level. They tend to feel not smart, or there's something in the DNA when you try to splice those two things that sort of dissipates. So for me, I was excited by the degree of difficulty – and I haven't worked in three years, so I wanted to put on some shoes that I knew fit.”
On shaking up the formula for the third outing:
“We're all 10 years older from the second movie, and different things are important to us in our lives and we're growing. We want to have the same kind of dumb that the first two movies had, the same kind of silly, because there's an appreciation of the silly that the comedy delivers. But it was really important for us also to have some meat to chew on and be able to create something. 'Toy Story 3' did a really great job of advancing it, but then also creating the underlying depth. So if you're going into the third part of something, we felt like it was really important to deliver more emotionally.
On finding that familiar Agent J-Agent K dynamic with Brolin in the black suit instead of Jones:
“That's all Josh Brolin. As actors, when you're in a scene it's like a tennis match: You're going back and forth. Me and Martin [Lawrence] have very different chemistry than me and Tommy Lee Jones. And what you do as an actor is that you try to find the lanes and you develop the chemistry. So I was expecting to make an adjustment from Tommy Lee Jones to Josh Brolin, but Josh studied Tommy so thoroughly that it was almost identical, like just the way that the interactions were in the scene. You make a move, watch the way the other guy goes. It was absolutely stunning. It's crazy because you don't even really notice how good his acting is, because it's so good you're just watching Tommy Lee Jones. You don't realize, 'No. That's Josh Brolin.' People thought that Tommy did the voice for the Josh Brolin character. That's how thoroughly Josh is delivering it.”
On making his first 3D film:
“My first concern with being in 3D was my ears, because I could see these things pretty much taking over the whole of the screen! When I first saw it and they were cool, I was like, 'All right – we didn't have me looking like satellite dishes.' But with special effects now you can see anything. There's no limitations with special effects. Probably the last five or six years there's absolutely no limitation of what you can see onscreen anymore. It's funny because the same thing happened with the music business when the music business went to digital, when you could do anything, record any number of tracks. As soon as it exploded it has a weird opposite effect where it gets worse for a while, which is really strange. It's like as soon as you get all the tools to do anything, all of a sudden now the movies aren't as good...I think what [director] Barry [Sonnenfeld] did is that he found the balance of not throwing things at the audience. The 3D is the screen and back. He went for depth, which makes it more pleasing to the eye."
On the breakout role he’ll always be remembered for:
“What's crazy for me is that the 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' is the biggest thing that I've ever done. When I go around, I'm the freshest prince everywhere around the world. It's just amazing how that television show was really a sort of a stroke of luck. What it does is, because of the amount of outlets for the show, a 9-year-old kid in Moscow watching 'The Fresh Prince' thinks that it's brand new. So when I show up it's as if it’s brand new. 'The Fresh Prince' has been a huge gift for me in that sense…Jaden can't figure out how people thought that it was okay for me to wear the clothes that I was wearing. That's his thing. He's like, 'Dude. That shouldn't be on TV.' Willow more gets it. With the kids in the house it's really great for me, because they help me stay aware. They help me stay current and follow trends and things like that. The idea of even something as simple as Instagram is an entirely new outlet. It's like the fans are consuming entertainment differently and if you miss on that you turn into a dinosaur really quickly.”
On hearing the footsteps of the young and hungry competition…at home:
“Jaden is probably the one of my kids who looks at me like I'm meat. He's looking across the dinner table at me like, 'I'm coming for you. You just have no idea.' So it was very important for me, having been away [from films] that long for me to come back in a way that I was comfortable and to come back with a project that was kid-friendly. That was something that Eddie Murphy said to me a few years ago: 'Man, if you're lucky enough to be in this business, every 20 years you have to go back and get the kids. Go get the kids every 20 years.' I was looking at 'Dr. Doolittle' and 'The Klumps' and everything, the idea of maturing, and then you go back and drop something [young]. What's great for me is that that target audience is in my house.”
On whether time travel holds any personal allure for him
“The thing that I've learned in my extensive study of time travel is that if you change one thing, you change everything. So I am absolutely ecstatic about where my life is right now and so I wouldn't mess with anything. Everything that I've experienced, everything that has gone right or wrong in my mind, has turned out to be all right. I feel like that's the nature of energy: that I get to decide if it was right or wrong, good or bad. My life as I sit here today is absolutely perfect, so I'm not messing with nothing.”