Will Smith is an actor who is synonymous with major global success at the box office, but the Fresh Prince has had trouble finding that form in recent years. Even though it made $179 million domestically, 2012's Men in Black 3 is the lowest-grossing installment of that sci-fi/comedy franchise (not to mention the most expensive), and Smith really hasn't had an outright hit since Hancock soared to $227.9 million in 2008.
The film that really hammered this point home was the infamous After Earth, which became one of the most noteworthy commercial bombs of 2013. M. Night Shyamalan's flop only managed $60.5 million in the States amidst a skewering by critics. Even though some responded well to the father-son element of the film, there weren't many who would defend it as an overall movie. Now, Smith reveals what impact that had on him.
In a candid interview with Esquire, Smith stated that After Earth marked the "most painful failure" in his acting career. Despite his reliable track record, Smith does have some duds on his filmography (Wild Wild West, for instance), but none of them compared to After Earth because of the familial aspect the film had. Smith expressed regrets about bringing his son Jaden along for the ride:
“‘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,”
Jaden Smith's performance was a source of much of the negative reception toward After Earth, with some going as far as accusing the elder Smith of nepotism for including him in the project. Regardless of how you feel about Jaden's acting abilities, one does have to sympathize with his father in this instance. Smith sounds as if he believes he let his son down and cost him an opportunity to forge his own career. The response to the movie obviously weighed heavy on Smith, and he took its failings hard.
But, as the old adage goes, Smith seems to have learned from his mistakes and is refocusing himself on becoming the best artist he can be, not just box office king. He did admit that at one point in his life, being at the top of the charts was what was most important to him, but his experiences on After Earth changed that viewpoint. Being in a reviled commercial failure could end up being one of the best things that happened to him, as it led Smith to have an epiphany:
"I was a guy who, when I was 15, 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 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.”
As Smith indicates, there's more to determining how successful your career has been than measuring your value in the amount of dollars your film grosses. Some of the most critically acclaimed films of all time (including Best Picture winners) have low box office totals, yet are seen in a higher light by moviegoers than some of the overproduced tentpoles that populate the multiplex in the summer months. Given that Smith is a talented thespian capable of turning in strong performances, it's very refreshing to hear that he has this new outlook on life.
In fact, his comments should be all the more promising to DC Comics fans, who are eagerly anticipating how Smith will bring the compelling villain Deadshot to life in David Ayer's Suicide Squad. That the villain/antihero team-up is one of the first projects Smith will headline in the post-After Earth stage of his career speaks volumes to its potential quality. While the film should be a box office bounce-back for the star, if he feels that Deadshot is a suitable way for him to pursue his goal of being a more mature actor, then viewers could be in for a special treat next summer.
Will Smith's next movie, Focus, hits theaters February 27th, 2015.