Tackling Chris Gardners True Story and Keeping It Real: Smith had to be willing to be unsympathetic as Gardner, and that was a difficult bridge for him to cross as an actor. Im at such a different place in my life right now. The opportunity to work with Jaden Its really been the series: Michael Mann opened my mind to a completely different way of working and creating, and its grown through this process now with Gabriele Muccino. The last little spark coming from Jaden.
I connected with Chris Gardner. We looked in one anothers eyes. I said, Im going to learn your story and Im going to tell your story. And he said, Just tell the truth. I went and found the truth. I have so many roadblocks, emotional roadblocks to the truth of characters because I know what a character needs to do to be likeable. My son has just developed me to a space where Im starting to understand and starting to be more comfortable with the idea that the things that you dont do well are the things that are really going to help people. Its new for me and I havent completely figured out how to articulate all the things that are in my mind, but Im excited right now about the connection between the things that I believe and now being able to find a way to illustrate those beliefs in my artistry.
Will Smith on Chris Gardners Struggle: Ive been referring to a film called What the Bleep [Do We Know!?]. Its about quantum physics. Youve heard the old phrase: if a tree falls in the forest, nobodys there, blah blah blah? The idea is that you have command over what your future, what your situation is. That you internally and with your spirit or however you want to put it, the Tao or Muslim Allah or Jesus - whatever that universal force is that you connect to - you, in sync with that force, have command to will your future. And in What the Bleep it talks about the idea that objects exist if you acknowledge they exist. That was something that Chris and I seriously connected on.
In the film, theres no hint to any racism. That was something specifically that Chris spoke about. He said, Well, sure, there may have been racism but the belief that if you acknowledge it, you give it power over you. You can call it arrogance, you call it naiveté. You call it whatever you want, but I truly believe in a situation where you are hoping to create something, it is a much more powerful space to know that you will not be denied. Whatevers out there, youre running over it. So were not even going to spend [any] time talking about the white man or, They dont have no spots left in this college so Im going to apply somewhere. Were not acknowledging [any] of that. Im going to that college, period.
Smith continued, Ive always called it naiveté with me that a few years ago I said that I honestly, truly believed that I could be the President of the United States. Now, there were probably political experts that laughed. But put me on a lie detector test right now and I absolutely, positively believe that I could be the President of the United States. I absolutely, positively believe I could fly the space shuttle. Period. And thats where it starts. Chris Gardner laid down in a bathroom with his only child, seemingly the ultimate parental failure. The next morning, he woke up, he bathed his son in the sink and he went to work. You cant do that if theres a possibility this might not work out. You cant do that. You have got to believe that its already a done deal. Its just a matter of time before you get what youre designing. To me Barack Obama called it the audacity of hope. Thats designed into the fiber of this country. This countrys the only place that Chris Gardner could exist. Im getting excited but to me, that is the essence of the power of this film.
The Appeal of This Rags-to-Riches Story: Smith first fell in love with the idea of making a movie based on Gardners story after watching Gardner on 20/20. When I saw that 20/20 piece, said Smith, Chris Gardner walks through and retraces the steps. There is a segment where he goes into the actual bathroom that he slept in with his son. I was like, Im making that movie. Then eventually I met with Chris. He was actually writing the book while we were shooting the movie. He would be on the set three, four days a week and every week hed give me 10 pages, just run me through some of the ideas.
He was extremely helpful all through the process. We would do takes. If somethings not feeling right, I would go away with Chris for an hour, just have him talk me through it. Try to get me mentally into the space of the moment, what he connected to.
Hes extremely thoughtful. Hes a lot like I felt like when I met Nelson Mandela. To have survived the things that hes survived and still have a big belly laugh Theres always going to be the scar tissue of traumatic experiences, but hes so peaceful walking through it. It was an extremely valuable resource to have him there and have him walking me through the scenes and taking me through San Francisco and Oakland.