Feature by: Jack Foley
WILL Smith isn’t the type of actor to do things quietly,
so when he entered the room of The Dorchester Hotel to a fanfare
of his own making, for the press conference for his latest blockbuster,
I, Robot, you sensed that the ensuing 25 minutes could be rather
And so it proved, as the rapper-turned actor energetically whipped
up the room to deliver a rousing welcome, before entering into
a whistling competition that really tested the ear-drums.
Smith, though, has got plenty to be happy about, given that I,
Robot has delivered the most successful opening weekend, at the
US Box Office, of his career, as well as receiving rave reviews
from critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
The reception for the science-fiction thriller, which pits Smith’s
sceptical detective against a possibly murderous robot in a not-too
distant future, is in marked contrast to that which greeted his
previous blockbuster, Bad Boys 2,
not to mention his last album, which subsequently saw the star
part company with his record label.
Asked how the disappointments of the past year had affected him,
he said: "Anytime you create, and you’re putting something
out in the world, you have to expect that some things are going
to be great, and some things are going to be not so great.
"But Bad Boys is probably the most pain I have ever experienced
in my career, because I feel like the better movie was actually
inside of the movie that we had, you know?
"I felt like, if you take 25 minutes out of the movie and
get it under two hours, cos there were things that were gratuitous,
I just felt like there was a better movie that was inside of that
movie, versus, for me, a film like Wild Wild West, where we just
missed. It was a swing and a miss.
"Bad Boys is much more painful to me, because I feel like
I have a relationship with the audience where I would strive for
quality. It’s sort of what I have with my fans, I don’t
make movies for money, I make it because there’s something
I would like to see, and something that I want the audience to
be able to see. For me, it’s more painful the quality let-down,
rather than the box office let-down."
Talking about I, Robot, however, Smith adds: "I’m
very happy with it. I’m more happy with the fact that I
feel like we made a great movie, because I’ve had big box
office in the past with not so great movies, and that doesn’t
"But I think that the film has a lot to offer and I’m
happy that people are liking it."
In truth, there isn’t much to dislike. By the actor’s
own admission, the film offers a powerful intellectual base, inspired
by the short stories of Isaac Asimov, that is contained within
the visionary world of director, Alex Proyas, who made films such
as The Crow and Dark City so memorable.
It also boasts some cutting-edge special effects, not to mention
the prospect of seeing Smith naked.
But, as the jovial star was quick to point out, the much talked
about ‘shower scene’ was not designed to be gratuitous,
even though he joked that they had ‘brought people in’
to watch it while filming.
"It was really important character
nakedness," he joked. "It wasn’t gratuitous Hollywood
nakedness! The character suffered from a condition called survivors’
guilt, which, you know, you have an accident, and everyone else
dies, so you feel guilt.
"It’s a psychological condition, and one of the symptoms
is paranoia, which is the reason why he had the door open, there’s
no shower curtain, and the gun holster is close by. He doesn’t
wash his hair, because he needs his eyes to be open because he’s
paranoid. So it was deep nakedness."
While Smith may be quick to joke about some of the lighter plot
points in the movie, however, he did seize upon the opportunity
to discuss some of the scientific possibilities it explores.
I, Robot is set some 30 to 40 years from now, when robots perform
everyday tasks, such as collecting the rubbish, doing the cooking
and walking the pet dog, while being governed by three laws, protecting
them from harming people.
Smith plays Detective Del Spooner, a robot sceptic. He believes
there are hidden dangers in giving robots so much responsibility
and finds his resolve put to the test when a former mentor is
murdered, possibly at the hands of one of the robots.
His bosses, however, think otherwise, and it is up to Spooner
to prove his theory before the very fabric of society is placed
Far from offering a bleak vision of the future, however, both
Smith and director, Proyas, believe the film offers a fair bit
"I think the concept of the Isaac Asimov paradigm that he
set off with the three laws was essentially that there’s
nothing wrong with the technology. The technology is absolutely
fine, and the robots in this film are doing exactly what they’ve
been programmed to do," explained Smith.
"The problem is more man’s arrogance in thinking that
we can confine the universe to laws. The universe will not be
confined to laws, and the only thing that’s going to happen,
when we ditch harsh adherence to logic and sort of reject our
intuition, is that it is only going to leave us in a situation
that we see in I, Robot.
"It’s more an indictment of human logic, than it is
an indictment of technology. I think that the concept of technology
is that we will have the lower intellectual endeavours taken care
of by robots, or computers, which will free man up and actually
give up more time to read books, and more time to evolve."
Smith was quick to play down suggestions, however, that robots,
or special effects, might eventually replace actors in movies,
given the growing emergence of computer-generated characters,
such as the Lord of the Rings’
"The performance of Sonny in this film is Alan Tudyk’s
performance; it’s all of the body language, the eyes, the
facial motions, the voice, everything is Alan Tudyk’s performance,"
he explained. "You are watching the choices of an actor that
were adapted by the special effects people.
"That cannot be generated; people go to the movies to see
and feel humanity, and, at this point, you cannot computer generate
Needless to say, Smith describes himself as a serious techno-geek,
someone who embraces the future more than clinging to the past,
and who believes that his iPod is the ‘greatest gadget of
But when asked what household chore he would most like a robot
to perform for him, he pauses, grins cheekily, and concludes:
"We can’t talk about that here!"
It is a rare quiet moment in the circus that represent Smith’s
life - although most people present at the press conference would
hope for another meeting with the star in their very near future.