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Born to Reign was the album released by Willard Christopher Smith Jr. also known as Will Smith, in the year of 2002. Although it did not reach the levels of success his previous albums had, it had a very clear and intended message behind it in relation to this essay. Within it, he addressed his true beliefs and intentions of life which are now backed up by his acting in his never-ending list of films. This essay will simultaneously look at Will Smith’s roles and performances mainly within three of his movies filmed within five years of each other. The first of the three being one of the most “challenging physically and mentally” as described by himself Ali, Michael Mann, 2001. At the time, this was something completely different to any of his other work. This film being a biopic meant he had to accustom himself into the role of one of the most influential figures and one of the greatest fighters of all time. Not an easy task for an average actor. But is Will Smith average? Far from it in fact, in his 1997 pop/rap lyrics of “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” from the hit album Big Willie Style, Will Smith says that Muhammad Ali would call him ‘the greatest’. Four years later, he was the lead role in Ali working alongside the great man himself. The second film is Bad Boys II, Michael Bay, 2003, an action/adventure film which can be said to be a typically standard Will Smith movie consisting of comedy throughout. And finally, the third film is Hitch, Andy Tennant, 2005 which again showed his versatility as an actor and his capability to adapt to any given role within a film with this being of a romantic comedy genre. The reason behind these film choices is simply because of the fact that they all come under different genres with Will Smith maintaining his high standards throughout each of these films. This has made people ask themselves the question whether there is anything he can not do in film. By the end of this essay, when the films have been analyzed and his performances within them observed, we will have come to the conclusion as to why Will Smith is regarded as the most powerful actor in Hollywood.
The word “Renaissance” is defined in the oxford dictionary as the revival of art and learning under the influence of classical models. Considering the formidable success achieved by Will Smith in the numerous arenas of the entertainment industry, music, producing as well as acting, this multi-talented individual must be regarded as the original Renaissance man. Remembering back to the time Will Smith first hit the big screen in the family friendly sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air in September 1990, he was a little known pop/rapper. Unknowingly, this sitcom based on a poor kid living with a rich Beverly Hills family relative from the Warner Bros executive Benny Medina would be an emergence of black comedy. This proved to be a runaway hit lasting for six seasons, but in fact this would just be the beginning of what was to come. His exploits within The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air prove that it was just the birth of a true star of entertainment.
According to Dyer, R. 1998, p35, ‘stardom is an image of the way stars live. For the most part, this generalised lifestyle is the assumed backdrop for the specific personality of the star and the details and events of his/her life.’ With that in mind and bearing Will Smith was given the freedom to be “himself” within the sitcom, he was given an opportunity to put across his true personality which in turn gave the show a distinctive genuine feel. This way, the audiences were treated to the real life star but unusually on stage. This gave the show a natural look which allowed the audience to appreciate the true characteristics and traits of the star of the show, Will Smith. In actual fact, it did not stop there. Since then most of his films have had ‘Will Smith written all over them’.
Most of the films that Will Smith is associated with are action/adventure with a touch of his trademark comedy which is known to be his strength due to his personality. But in fact it appears to have been the epic creation of the biopic Ali, in which he had the lead role that earned him his first Oscar nomination. His well studied performance also earned him severe praise as at the time, it was something completely different to any of his other mainstream films. Playing the lead role in this biopic of the great Muhammad Ali was no easy task as in the footage of the Making of Ali, Will Smith stated that “to play the role of a living legend is the hardest thing to do for an actor.” Few would disagree as Muhammad Ali himself was on set for some of the shooting to keep an eye on things! The basic narrative of the film is that Ali thrills the world with his ground-breaking boxing victories in the 60’s and 70’s. But the man behind the legend is grappling with a tumultuous romantic life, his deeply held religious beliefs and the pressures of staying on top. A quick witted, winning personality and strong friendships with close associates including renowned newscaster Howerd Cosell help Ali “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. But faced with a life changing conflict outside of the ring, the famously opinionated boxer is forced to rely on the one person he knows the best, himself.
With this narrative, Will Smith did not just have to worry about getting the acting part right, but also the part of getting into the right physical shape. This meant he had to train rigorously for his most demanding role yet. Darrell Foster, his boxing trainer, talked about the training regime in Behind the Scenes of Ali. He intimated that they trained for just over a year, six hours a day. The training began at six in the morning and finished by five in the evening with rests and other acting exertions in between. Weighing at just 189 pounds when they began, Will Smith scaled at 222 pounds by the time they had finished training and started filming. These facts simply show the dedication and commitment he has for the cause of being an actor and more importantly, a success. His ability to change his whole appearance via a physically demanding regime as the one he was on in order to fill his role show what an exceptional character he has. The courage and compassion he showed by doing this was what got him the most recognition by critics and audiences alike as he went out of his way in order to tell a real life story in the best way he possibly could. His general behaviour and intelligence within this film got people questioning how good he really was and is as an actor never mind an entertainer. This quote from Will Smith himself out of the Making of Ali “I had to learn to think like a fighter, eat like a fighter, sleep like a fighter and assess situations in life like a fighter” shows vital skills of adapting to any given role which is a sign of an if not good, then a great actor. It also shows that it was not just the physical aspects he had to adapt to but in fact his mentality too. This was on show when watching the film as you could see the narrative of the film insisted on him to cut out his usual comedy traits in order to try and emulate one of the most influential figures to grace sport. He managed to show some unique characteristics within the film as although the film did include various scenes of comedy, the trademark so called ‘goofy’ comedy of Will Smith was nowhere to be seen. In truth, it was the poetic rhymes that Muhammad Ali was so famous for that Will Smith imitated all to well. Changing his whole style of acting, beginning with minor things such as his walk, line of speech (phrases) and other characteristics to accommodate his role within the film showed a mean feat in itself. In reality, this was the film that put Will Smith at the top in regards to acting as although it was not the biggest selling film of that year, the hard work put into completing this film gained him endless praise and respect from critics, peers and audiences alike.
After his Oscar nomination performance in Ali, Will Smith went on to executive produce the Robert De Niro/Eddie Murphy comedy Showtime in 2002. However what came after is our next focal point. Bad Boys II, a 2003 film by Michael Bay, was a film that topped the box office but by now, that was to be expected with a film starring Will Smith. This film consisted of a ‘thrill ride’ from beginning to end. In brief, the film is about one hundred million dollars worth of confiscated heroin getting poached from police custody and the two most witty of detectives, Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are on the case. The missing drugs now threaten to shut down their narcotics division of the Miami Police Department. Bullets fly and cars crash as they pursue a dead beat drug lord from the streets of Miami to the barrios of Cuba. But this being a Will Smith film, the real fireworks result when Marcus discovers that playboy Mike Lowrey is secretly romancing his sister.
This is the box office topping film we have now come to expect from Will Smith. A typical action/adventure genre with plenty of nice cars, plenty of shooting and plenty of blow ups, not forgetting the secret romance on the side. In a particular scene of an intense car chase, you see him driving his Ferrari over pavements and executing plenty of stunts while maintaining his trademark comedy with his witty comments. This really fulfils the credentials of an action/adventure genre therefore is very productive in catching the attention if its audience through its action packed acting. It has to be noted that Will Smith is complimented very much so by the presence of Martin Lawrence throughout this film which is fantastic from the comedic aspect of the film as they are two good entertainers but together, they show that they can become great.
Director Michael Bay insisted on giving Will Smith a new “sexy”, “bad” image in the original Bad Boys to overcome his existing image of providing young goofy comedy seen in his sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. This obviously continued from their on in which shows his intentions to be able to learn and cultivate on his acting from a young age. All this has led him to reach the heights that he is at today. Preparation for this film was far from the same level as Ali as that was just on a completely different scale. But he still managed to put in some extra work by attending a school for policing to learn shooting and basic combative movements. This propelled him to greater heights in the world of Hollywood as he could have been said to be reaching a point where the question what he can not do was beginning to rise.
Then came a slight indication as to there might just being something but as that question was about to be raised, then came Hitch. While Will Smith had proven himself as an action star time and again and had received high marks for his dramatic work, it remained to be seen if he could carry a romantic comedy. How wrong were the doubters as all the speculation ceased in early 2005 with the release of Hitch, starring Will Smith as a fabled date doctor. The film had the biggest opening weekend for a romantic comedy to date. Basically, Will Smith, as Alex Hitchens within the film, is “the cure for the common man”. Most men have difficulty finding love because it’s hard to be yourself when your “self” thinks you should be someone else. That’s where Hitch comes in. as a tactical advisor who specialises in first impressions, he customises and orchestrates a client’s first three dates. He is secretly responsible for hundreds of New York City weddings. Sara (Eva Mendes) is a gossip reporter for a daily tabloid who, after a chance meeting with Hitch, finds her professional life and personal life on a collision course. She makes Hitch re-evaluate his game and teaches him that love is not a feeling, it’s in fact an action. In relation to this narrative, the director Andy Tennant hinted that with all the charm and charisma Will Smith naturally possessed, this script was written purely for him and that this would come as second nature to him. His theory proved to be correct as Will Smith walked away with the kids as well as the teens choice awards for this film as well as being nominated for another six staggering awards including the BET comedy award.
The following year, Will Smith starred in the period drama The Pursuit Of Happyness. This film recounted the true story of Charles Gardner and tapped new reserves of compassion in Will Smith’s persona. He managed to fully embody another real-life character while maintaining all of the qualities that endeared him to audiences in the first place; his humour, his hustle and his ingenuity. This is no coincidence then that people have already begun to talk about him as playing the role of Barack Obama if a biopic of his life and the road to the United States presidency as the first black president is ever produced.
Looking at his achievements to date and his ambitions for the future, you can understand the reasons behind him now being labelled as the most powerful actor in Hollywood. Having started rapping at the age of twelve and having won his first Grammy at the age of twenty, he is now in a position with a countless number of awards and nominations under his belt at the age of forty. The most recent one (November 2008) being voted number one on the list of America’s favourite stars by readers of parade magazine and viewers of the US television show Entertainment Tonight. Currently working on producing for film, music and television as well as acting, you can see that he is not yet ready to relinquish his work. Through the years he has distinctively demonstrated his own commercial viability and sturdy appeal to a broad cross section of viewers which has allowed him to arguably cement his place deservedly as the most powerful man in Hollywood never mind actor. Could his very own lyrics of 1997 from the hit single “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” when he claimed Muhammad Ali would call him the greatest be accurate? Would it be justifiable to think so in relation to what he has achieved and what he is destined to do?
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