A quick Q&A with Will Smith on his new role in Collateral Beauty

2017-01-26 15:00

Cape Town – In Collateral Beauty Will Smith leads an A-list ensemble cast. 

Smith plays Howard Inlet, an advertising executive who copes with his daughter's death by writing letters to time, death and love.

Watch the trailer here:

Smith sat down for a quick Q&A about his new role.

When director David Frankel first approached you about Collateral Beauty, what resonated with you and made you want to be part of it?

I had seen some of David’s films, so I was already excited about working with him. Then I got the screenplay, which is magical. When I get a script, I always read the last ten pages first, and I’ll know in those pages if the story comes together. And the last ten pages of Collateral Beauty are arguably the best.  

At this point, what draws me to a project is about more than just making a movie. I’m trying to create something that will potentially relieve some suffering in somebody’s life. As an artist, you’re really trying to craft a gift, and this is a film I’m particularly proud of. It explores real emotions that are universal, with a powerful message of hope at its heart – it’s everything you want a holiday movie to be.

How did you wrap your mind around playing Howard Inlet, who is in such a dark place when we meet him in the film?  

This was one of those roles where you could fall in too deep with the character. I had to be extremely careful not to allow my real life and my real loves to come into the experience.  

Was it a challenge to play someone who has cut himself off from everyone around him?

Yeah, but that was a fun challenge. For most of the first half of the film, Howard doesn’t speak. I had had a bit of experience with that on I Am Legend, being in scenes alone and crafting all the internal dialog that goes on but is never verbalised, and that’s the fun of it. Even when you’re in a scene by yourself, there’s a full exchange. It’s an artistic process where you’re painting as you go along. I enjoyed that as much as working with this incredible cast.

Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore and Helen Mirren portray the personifications of Love, Time and Death – which Howard is trying to communicate with. How did you wrap your mind around the scenes when Howard actually comes face-to-face with these concepts? 

That was really interesting. The danger for an actor in those scenes is to mistakenly judge your character as being crazy. It’s actually about figuring out that if your character could speak with Death, what would he want to say? And essentially once you craft those opinions, it becomes freeing. Now, you’re just in a scene with a person—who happens to be playing Death. 

It’s such an emotional story, yet there’s so much humour in the film, particularly in your scenes with Helen Mirren and Michael Peña. Can you talk about finding that balance?

It was about being able to take these serious circumstances and flip them into moments that are almost comedic, and to have both aspects alive and vibrant in the scene. Helen and Michael were definitely able to find ‘funny,’ and, for me, watching them create those moments was a breath of fresh air.  

How did you find David Frankel as a director? Does he create a collaborative environment on set?

David lets you find your way to what he wants. Instead of directing you there, he follows you. When you step into a scene, you feel thoroughly prepared, because you’ve walked through all of the possibilities with David, and he has let you try everything. He keeps guiding you back around and is open to many different variations. You think you’re leading the scene, but he’s really just gently directing you to where he wants to go.  

What do you hope audiences experience when they see Collateral Beauty in the cinema?

I hope that audiences see the joy in this film. It walks a really interesting line between the pain and the collateral beauty.

There’s nothing that would make me feel better than, three or four years from now, somebody walks up on the street and says, ‘Hey, man, thank you for Collateral Beauty.’

The film releases in cinemas on Friday, 27 January. 

(Photos: Warner Bros)

READ MORE: Will Smith used his personal grief for his latest role

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