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Over the span of Will Smith’s 25-year career, there’s one film in particular that has taught the actor a “valuable lesson.”
In a recent interview with Esquire, Smith revealed that when 2013’s sci-fi film After Earth, in which he starred alongside son Jaden Smith, bombed at the box office (grossing a total of $60.5 million domestically), he realized he had been seeking success in all of the wrong places.
“That was the most painful failure in my career. 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,” Smith admitted. “What I learned from that failure is how you win. I got reinvigorated after the failure of After Earth. I stopped working for a year and a half. I had to dive into why it was so important for me to have number-one movies. And I never would have looked at myself in that way.”
But upon hearing the news that the father-son project he’d worked so hard for had unexpectedly tanked, Smith only had about half an hour to let it all sink in.
“I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective —viciously,” he recalled.
As a young teen, it was a failed relationship that sparked the actor’s desire to be the best, which later translated to box-office domination. “I was a guy who, when I was fifteen my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me,” he said. “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.”
Smith added, “That Monday [following the opening weekend of After Earth] started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”
Smith will appear next opposite Margot Robbie in Focus, Warner Bros.’ comedy-crime film set for a Feb. 27 release.
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