Fun is the name of Smith's game

Fun is the name of Smith's game
Will Smith plays a con man who takes a novice (Margot Robbie, both left) under his wing in Focus.

Six years ago, Will Smith was named Forbes magazine's Most Bankable Star In Hollywood, the rapper-turned-actor beating the likes of actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie with his ability to generate box-office receipts.

In 2013, the performer with the Midas touch would come crashing down to earth when a movie he produced and starred in became one of the year's biggest flops.

Looking back on it now, the 46-year-old admits the failure of his science-fiction flick After Earth - the biggest bomb of his career - was nothing short of "emotionally devastating".

He fully expected the film, directed by 1999 The Sixth Sense's M. Night Shyamalan and co-starring Smith's son Jaden, to do as well as his previous sci-fi blockbusters, which included Independence Day (1996), the Men In Black trilogy (1997-2012) and Hancock (2008).

The last of these capped an unprecedented hot streak for an American actor, marking the eighth consecutive Smith film to gross more than US$100 million at the United States box office.

"It's, like, that's Big Willie weekend, you know? I smash at the box office, I'm No. 1, US$100 million - we start there," says the actor.

Instead, critics and moviegoers alike gave After Earth the thumbs-down and it earned just US$60 million (S$81.6 million) in the US despite costing US$120 million to make (although it did go on to do well overseas, with another US$183 million in takings).

"For that to happen, to realise that, oh shoot, I could lose - it was really emotionally difficult for me," says Smith, who had also enjoyed success with smaller dramatic films such as the biopics Ali (2001) and The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006), both earning him Oscar nominations for Best Actor.

As the actor promotes his new film Focus, his first lead role since the After Earth fiasco, he says his approach to work is different now.

"I had to back up for a second and say, 'Wait a minute, I'm allowing myself to be defined by what other people think of my movies'," he tells Life! and other press in Los Angeles.

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