Will Smith pulls himself back into the spotlight

Will Smith pulls himself back into the spotlight
Movie Still: Focus, starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

He does not always win.

And he is not as bulletproof as he thought.

Those were the big lessons he had learnt, Will Smith confessed at the international press junket for his latest movie Focus.

"Failure for me was emotionally devastating," the Hollywood superstar said earlier this month at the Westlake Village Four Seasons Hotel.

He was referring to his 2013 summer movie After Earth, a passion project he produced and starred in with his son Jaden, 16.

It was not only critically savaged but severely under-performed at the US box office, taking in only US$61 million (S$83 million), less than half its US$130 million production budget.

"That's usually Big Willy weekend and I (usually) smash it at the box office," said Smith, 46.

"For that to happen and for me to realise that I could lose was difficult."

Smith's track record during summer blockbuster season in the US from April to July has never met with such an outright disaster.

His last two summer movies Men In Black 3 (2012) and Hancock (2008) were massive hits, making US$170 million and US$228 million at the box office respectively.

The Karate Kid, which he produced for Jaden in 2010, was also a big winner with a haul of US$177 million.

Smith said: "I had to back up for a second and not let myself be defined by what other people think of my movies.

"Focus was the first film I made where I actually approached it and made it purely about the people and about having fun.

"I shifted from being goal-oriented, which made me crazy for a lot of years, to path-oriented, and not worrying about tomorrow since there isn't much control over that."

Focus, which opens here tomorrow, sees Smith as Nicky, a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie).

Nicky abruptly breaks things off with her, but the two meet again three years later in Argentina when Nicky is in the middle of his latest dangerous scheme.

She throws his plans for a loop and the skilled con man is off his game.

DO IT DIFFERENTLY

Even though he has tried similar work with Hancock and Men In Black II, Smith went into Focus with a totally different mindset.

Instead of being focused on making it a blockbuster hit that would earn US$100 million or more on its opening weekend, he made sure he would live in the moment and enjoy the process.

Smith said he really took a liking to the script's thin line between lying and loving.

It also mirrored what was going on in his life at the time.

"The concept of vulnerability and authenticity was at the forefront of my life and when I read Focus.

"I thought it was such a genius way to talk about the absolute necessity of authenticity and openness, and how it's needed to create an environment for love - that struggle was perfect for me." Helping him get back on his feet was his co-star Robbie, with whom Smith said he shared an incredible chemistry.

He related how his first impression of the Australian actress was not good, as she looked shabby at the impromptu audition.

She had come directly from the airport after a backpacking trip in Croatia, and was in clothes she had worn for several days after she lost her baggage.

Smith said: "My first reaction was thinking she didn't want this job, but we started talking and all of a sudden she clicked into character and we hit it off.

"You either have chemistry with people or you don't. You can have the best actors, directors and screenplay in the world but if your leads do not have chemistry, it can kill everything.

"Even though we are as different as can be, there was a magic that happened when we performed together."

Now, the Oscar-nominated actor, who has a potential superhero franchise under his belt in the upcoming Suicide Squad (again co- starring Robbie), is living life to the fullest after licking his wounds for over a year.

"It's really a great time to be me and I'm loving my life," he declared. "I'm feeling myself making a shift and transition in my life and it will start to reflect more in my artistry, so I'm excited to see where the great river takes me."

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