Will Smith Talks “Mistakes,” Saudi Arabia and ‘I Am Legend 2’ With Michael B. Jordan

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By Joshephira Honey

Will Smith talked about the sequel to I Am Legend and shared much insight into his state of mind, past and future on Saturday while appearing at the third Red Sea International Film Festival.

The actor, who said he used to think he would become a scientist because he always enjoyed figuring things out, used that as a segue to poke a bit of fun at himself while appearing at the event, held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “I love puzzles, I love problems. Yeah, so I started making my own problems. Life is going too well.”

That was read in the room as a reference to the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony, where he won the best actor Oscar for his role in King Richard, but infamously slapped host Chris Rock onstage after a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. Controversy ensued, and Smith apologized and expressed his regret.

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“I have made tons of mistakes,” Smith admitted on Saturday. “We love your mistakes,” a woman in the audience screamed in return. And the star shared that he has Quincy Jones as a trusted adviser and mentor. “Quincy has always made himself available,” Smith said. “He wants me to win as a human. He is devoted to me as a human, not just as an artist.”

“Fame is a unique monster,” Smith also told the crowd that was clearly full of fans. “You can’t get too excited when people say good things about you.” Because then when people say bad things about you, you struggle and suffer more. “I have to be clear about who I am and what I am attempting to do in the world. And I can’t need others to applaud for me to stay focused on my mission. … I want you to feel good. And at the same time, I am deeply human. And I am in the process of perfecting my virtue.”

Smith recalled that his career aspirations changed from a science focus when he first heard The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1978 or 1979. “I knew I wanted to do whatever that art form was in front of people,” he recalled. “Rap music was the first real entertainment that captured my desire.”

The star also answered many other questions in an “In Conversation” session at the Vox Cinema complex at the city’s Red Sea Mall, including about various experiences and stages of his career. Fans who had bought tickets for the event had started lining up well ahead of its star time.

Smith’s arrival on stage, after a highlight reel that drew repeated cheers, particularly for a scene of the star as the genie in Aladdin, led to an enthusiastic eruption by the audience. The audience then greeted Smith, who entered the cinema down a set of stairs, with cheers, woos, high-fives and countless selfies. One woman was so overwhelmed after jumping up and getting a high-five that she hugged a friend and screamed, “Oh my god.”

Smith was very grateful, thanking the audience, partly in Arabic. “That was fantastic, thank you. Shukran, shukran!”

Smith had already brought A-list star power to the Thursday opening night of the third edition of the Saudi festival, getting mobbed by selfie hunters and posing for many.

On Saturday, the star called love “the central human theme” and “the central cinematic theme,” adding: “That is absolutely universal.” For example, Hitch is about love and relating to others, including the characters of Smith and Kevin James, he said.

Smith’s summary of the two core plots of films: It is either about someone who wants something and goes for it against all odds. Or it is about someone who falls into a hole and tries to get out. If they succeed, it is a happy ending. If not, it is a dramatic ending.

Smith said that “movies are about people trying to figure out how to be here without being miserable.” That is why people and their effort to strive despite humans’ “existential tragedy” is more important to him as a starting point when people pitch a movie than “cool stuff” that may happen in them.

Contributing to that view is a key focus for the actor in his life. “I am a steadier. The important thing in life for me is that I continuously learn,” Smith shared during his appearance. Saying he has studied religions, he added that “I have studied the stories that last for thousands of years.”

He also mentioned that a sequel to I Am Legend was in the works. “I have a call with Michael B. Jordan tomorrow,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you any more.” But he did share one more detail. While his character dies in the first movie seen in cinemas, Smith said the DVD included an alternate ending scene in the end credits showing that his character was actually alive. “So we are going with the mythology of the DVD version where my character lived,” Smith said.

Asked about Bad Boys, Smith said it was a great example that one plus one does not always simply equal two, but that “1+1=10.” Bad Boys 4, starring Smith and Martin Lawrence, is in the works at Sony Pictures, with Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah returning as directors. The star on Saturday said comedy was probably his most natural genre fit. “It’s a great way to make a living,” he said, but also highlighted: “When you play a drama, you grow.”

What does Smith want to do next? “A movie with Denzel!” an audience member yelled out. Smith’s reaction: “A movie with Denzel Washington… in Saudi!” After cheers, he said, “I love it here,” before joking that he needs the audience to tell him where his Saudi house should be.

Asked by a woman how to make it to Hollywood and succeed there, Smith replied: “What is happening in Saudi is gigantic.” His recommendation? “Stay in Saudi and build your community.” He concluded, “What you will be able to do in the next three to five years will match every place on Earth.”

Smith then said that he really wants to teach now. “There is a style of global storytelling,” and he would like to work with people to help them tweak their stories to help them go worldwide, he explained. “So I am excited to travel the world and collaborate and be able to build a global storytelling community.” Working in global collaborations that enables an exchange of stories that “creates bridges” and “heals wounds,” he said. “I just don’t feel politics will necessarily create the change. So I am putting the burden on myself and global artists.”

At the end of Saturday’s on-stage conversation with Lebanese TV host Raya Abirached, he summarized his goal for the next stage of his life this way: “Perfecting and shining my light.”

Just as the host wanted to wrap up, Smith jumped up with microphone in hand and said he’d take an audience question or two and walked halfway up the stairs, only to be surrounded by audience members within seconds. When I man said the audience hadn’t seen Smith dance, the star joked that he couldn’t hear the question. After another round of photos and selfies amid the adoring crowd, Smith left under thunderous applause and said: “Thank you so much, all. This has been fantastic.”

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