The Fresh Prince. Mike Lowrey. Capt. Steven Hiller. Agent J. Will Smith has proved that he is capable of any role that he takes on. He may be at his most successful when he’s playing a role that requires him to be an action hero or a comedic leading-man, but his footprint in Hollywood is truly much more than that. He’s delivered performances in dramatic films throughout his entire career beginning with Six Degrees of Separation. While, the film may be sprinkled with comedic bits, Smith pulls off a thoroughly convincing dramatic performance as Paul, a con-artist who implements himself into a couple’s life by convincing them he is the son of Sydney Poitier. This wasn’t the first time an audience witnessed Smith’s dramatic chops—in fact, there are moments in the hit show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where Smith delivers incredibly powerful performances some in which case are based off his real-life experiences growing up.
Will Smith found modest fame as a hip-hop artist under the name The Fresh Prince alongside his DJ and friend, DJ Jazzy Jeff. They would go on to release a number of albums together before being offered the lead role in the show that would boost Smith’s stardom from modest to household in the early 90’s. His performances on the show lead him to the wild world of Hollywood, getting offers for major blockbuster films such as Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men in Black. This is when the rest of the world was truly introduced to Will Smith. Having three hit blockbuster films within three years proved to the world that Smith was an absolute movie star. The kind of star that puts movie-goers in theatre seats simply because Smith’s name was on the poster. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air became The Fresh Prince of Hollywood.
To this day, Will Smith is considered to be one of the last true movie stars. In the sense that an actor’s name is what is selling tickets as opposed to the content of the actual film. He may have hit a bit of a dead spot after the rare misfire, Seven Pounds— a drama film about a man who attempts to change the lives of seven people. The film was panned by critics but still managed to be a box-office success. In interviews with Smith he said the reason for taking the role was the immense contrast from the main character to the roles he’s been known to take. His introverted performance was, of course, fantastic but after the release of this film Smith entered his first lull in Hollywood. After a 12 year run of successful box-office hits, his star power was beginning to fade. Not because his acting chops were fading, rather, I believe Hollywood was morphing, slowly, into what we know it as today.
Will Smith remains a massive selling point for the films he stars in, perhaps it is the audience who have grown tired of the familiar formula used in big action movies. His return to the fan-favourite role of Agent J in the Men in Black franchise in 2012 was a welcome dose of familiarity. It seems as though the audience wants Will Smith to be, well—his most Will Smith. His larger than life personality in real life bleeds into his roles with so much charm and like-ability that his audience always wants more of that on screen. His more underrated roles such as The Pursuit of Happyness, Ali, Concussion, or The Legend of Bagger Vance are all phenomenal performances from the talented actor but they don’t seem to be talked or reminisced about as much as his most popular roles. Save for The Pursuit of Happyness as he tugged at all our heartstrings with his incredibly honest and heart-wrenching performance alongside his young son, Jaden Smith.
The wonder of Will Smith is nearly contagious. When you see his charisma flood the screen of whatever film you are watching you can’t help but love the guy. He remains a sole reason to watch a film. He makes you smile. He makes you laugh. He can make you cry or hang off the edge of your seat in a high octane action film. There is a reason he is one of our last remaining movie stars. It’s because Will Smith was born to be a star. He’s taken risks in roles, which I hope more people will come to appreciate in actors. When an actor takes a risk with a role you may not feel familiar with, it is not a bad thing. It’s simply unfamiliar. How are we supposed to grow as audience if we are only ever expecting actors be one trick ponies? We must learn to appreciate their varied roles and risks they take to expand their talents as actors. Smith is a fantastic example of this. While he may only have a few misfires sprinkled over his thoroughly impressive career, there are still so many things about those performances he gave that we can learn to appreciate.
From his good guy hip-hop career to his illustrious film career, Will Smith proves time and time again that he was born for this. In recent years, he has worked as hard as ever to deliver top notch performances and continues to take the risks we’ve all come to expect from him after all this time. Some may say the biggest risk of them all… a role so precious and so beloved that no actor even dare to imagine taking it on… The Genie, as made legendary by the great, untouchable Robin Williams. When the first trailer for Disney’s live action remake of the 1992 animated hit Aladdin was debuted online I think it is safe to say that we, as an audience, were worried. At the end of the trailer we were given our first glimpse of Will Smith as The Genie. Again, it’s safe to say that we were worried. The CGI, while impressive, looked… off. Almost eerie. The design of the character wasn’t so much an original design made specifically for the world of Aladdin, but more so just a blue Will Smith. Something about the way his face sat on the computer generated body turned people off. It was just strange to see. This, plus the fact that anyone taking over the role from Mr. Williams was going to inevitably have to face a ton of scrutiny. Smith took it in strides. Never once losing his charm and positivity about the portrayal of the role. When the film finally debuted it was received by audiences, and most critics, quite warmly. Smith nailed it. He made it his own and was able to separate the two portrayals with respect and originality. I commend Will Smith for having the courage and talent to make such an iconic and beloved role into something completely new and riotously hilarious. Disney’s live action remake of Aladdin went on to become Smith’s biggest box-office success raking in over $1 Billion in theatres.
Looking back on the career of Will Smith, there is no question as to why he is still and forever will be a real movie star. From The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Aladdin, he has never stopped entertaining us with his one of a kind personality and love for life that we could all use a little more of. So, Mr. Smith, please continue to be you, be the movie star that you are, and keep spreading your contagious charisma around the world.
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