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Will Smith on fame, fortune and watches
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Will Smith on fame, fortune and watches

Friday, 06 December 2019
By Frank Rousseau
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Frank Rousseau

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6 min read

Gemini Man isn’t just another sci-fi action flick. Director Ang Lee, whose other films include Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, makes a technological leap in this new movie, starring Will Smith and… Will Smith. The actor tells more.

Independence Day, I Robot, Men In Black, Gemini Man, something tells me you're a sci-fi fan…

It is a favourite genre of mine. Gemini Man raises issues about human cloning and using a person’s DNA without their consent. It also touches on whether we could replace the military with genetically modified soldiers, created in laboratories, which sounds perfect in theory but the real question is, should we be playing God?

Will Smith
Will Smith
The film uses de-ageing, which is becoming something of a trend in film-making.

True, but in Gemini Man the effects are staggeringly realistic. This isn’t me with my wrinkles airbrushed. It’s a fully digital creation. Weta Digital in New Zealand [Peter Jackson’s visual effects company] really pushed the envelope. High-resolution camerawork means you see every pore, sinew and blood vessel of this younger, computer-generated me. In the past, we would have had my son play the role in different hair and make-up and called him a clone. In Gemini Man it’s all down to powerful calculations.

How was it done?

I wore a motion-capture suit. Sensors attached to my face and body captured my movements, micro-expressions, even the dilation of my blood vessels. This information was then fed into computers that used software to create my younger double. A 23-year-old Will Smith. This film is a revolution in technology. The teams at Weta studied the morphology of ageing and looked at human anatomy, from how facial muscles interact right down to microscopic level.

I love getting recognised by fans. It can even get you out of trouble, sometimes!
Will Smith
Is there a possibility that human actors could be replaced by their digital double?

I don’t think so. When Ang Lee digitizes my face, expressions, emotions or postures, I’m still the template. We keep hearing how virtual actors will be the death of flesh and blood actors, but I don’t think there’s any cause for concern. Remember, movies are meant to push the limits of our imagination, not hold it back.

How do you handle the side effects of fame?

Some actors feel vulnerable or insecure when fans come up to them. Not me. I love getting recognised. Sometimes it can even get you out of trouble!

Will Smith
Will Smith
Really? How's that?

Like the time I had no money for gas. Usually a guy comes over to my house to wash my car and fill up the tank. This one time he couldn’t make it, I drove over to the gas station myself. When I got there, I realised I’d left my wallet at home. I looked around and saw a guy in the car behind who looked like he was maybe 38, 40 years old. I knew he had to be a Fresh Prince fan, so I asked the dude if he could help me out with $10. And he said sure, if he could get a picture. He was a great guy. I mean, he could have asked for my Rolex in exchange!

I bought my first watch as a kid with money I'd earned.
Will Smith
Speaking of which, do you remember your first watch?

After my father left the Air Force, he became a refrigeration engineer. When I wasn’t in school, he’d make me go on jobs with him. I can see myself, maybe 5 or 6 years old, in a supermarket basement helping him install industrial freezers. Our hands were numb from the cold, but these are moments I’ll never forget. Afterwards, he used to make me hot chocolate and give me a couple of dollars, which I put in my money box. I was saving up to buy a watch I’d seen. It was a Timex with a liquid crystal screen that lit up to show the time. So I actually bought my first watch with money I’d earned. Having a father who’s a refrigeration engineer helps you keep a cool head! You know, you can be king of the world one day, and the next day find yourself in the gutter with nothing but regrets and empty pockets. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about!

I'm guessing you mean your problems with the Internal Revenue Service.

Yeah. I was 18 in 1986 and already had a million dollars in the bank. Selling 600,000 CDs earns you a lot of dough! Except I blew the whole lot. I owned a mansion, a dozen motorcycles, designer clothes. I had a satellite dish the size of a bus in my garden. I had six cars… and not a dollar to pay for gas. My father used to say, “Son, what’s the point of having six cars when you only have one behind to put on a seat?” How do you answer that? Same for the twenty or so luxury watches I owned. Why so many watches when you only have two wrists, he’d ask. My father was always telling me, “You must learn from your failures. They help you to grow.” In his mind, the only real failure was not to try. Not to take risks. I quit school to start rapping. It almost killed my mother that I turned down a chance to go to college. My work as an artist became the only opportunity I had to get an education. Throw in some major financial problems, and you soon learn to stay humble.

Will Smith
Will Smith
Tell us about your favourite watches.

I’m not loyal to any one brand. The first thing I look at when choosing a watch is the design, not the price. I’ve worn a Victorinox Swiss Army watch and a steel Hamilton Ventura with a black leather lizard pattern strap on screen and around town. In a different register, I own an Audemars Piguet and an 18k gold Rolex Sky-Dweller. I also have a TAG Heuer Monaco and a Ulysse Nardin, a brand I only recently discovered.

In Men in Black, you have a "neuralyzer" that erases people's memory. What if you had a magic watch? What would you want it to do?

I’d use it to convince movie critics I’m the best actor in the world and deserve an Oscar. I’d press the pusher and no more bad reviews! [laughs]

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