Through the course of his career, Will Smith has carved a niche as a likable actor who brings a bit of himself to each role.
But that persona, according to the Philadelphia rapper, is nowhere to be found in his latest feature, The Pursuit of Happyness.
Instead, Smith brings a new dimension to his acting style by entering a realm that was different from what heís accustomed to.
They (Pursuit director Gabriele Muccino and Ali director Michael Mann) see right through me, all of the Will-isms and the things I know how to do to make the audience smile and cry," Smith told AllHipHop.com during a press conference promoting the film. "Itís scary for me right now because Iím moving into a space where I just have no idea whatís going to happen when I go into these scenes. Iím living in the moment.
"Iím at such a different place in my life right now," continued Smith, who shares screen time with Thandie Newton and his son Jaden. "Michael Mann opened my mind up to a completely different way of working and creating and itís grown through this process right now through Gabriele Muccino and the last little spark coming from Jaden."
Based on the true life story of Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness follows Smith as he struggles to make ends meet in his quest to support himself and his son (played by Smith's real-life son Jaden Smith), while living on the street.
Although Gardner ultimately triumphs over adversity, his biggest obstacle may not be the obvious.
"The biggest -ism that I ever had to deal with was not racism, it was place-ism," revealed Gardner, who currently serves as the President and CEO of Gardner Rich, a Chicago-based brokerage firm. "Iím not from a politically connected family. I had not gone to college. I had no money of my own. Whoís going to do business with you? Thatís place-ism. Thatís not racism... So the racism thing was totally secondary. My love for what I had an opportunity to do and my love for my child and the commitment minimized everything else."
Smithís role in the film has garnered talk of an Oscar nomination for the entertainer, who received his first Oscar nomination for his performance as in 2001's Ali.
Smith was recently honored by a friends and colleagues for his film work by the Museum of the Moving Image at its 22nd annual black-tie salute.
The annual event is held to raise money to support the Museumís education programs, which help more than 25,000 intermediate and high school students each year.
The salute, which was held in New York City, will air in January 2007 on the Bravo network. Smith, a co-producer of the UPN show All of Us, joins past recipients which include Robert De Niro, Sidney Poitier and Steven Spielberg.
Newton saw first hand how involved the rapper became in doing Gardnerís story justice.
"I was around Will in probably one of the most challenging roles of his life," she said. It was a very complex role... I do think that this movie stretched him to his limit. And yet you look at it and thereís Will being majestic and giving a beautifully led performance. And thereís his son giving a beautiful performance. Nothing had to be comprised and yet he had so many roles to play in the project."
Gardner, who established a solid friendship with Smith, recalled a conversation the two had after showing Smith a picture of him and his son in front of the first house the two lived in, after more than a year of living in the street.
"I say to Will ĎWe can talk about the script or we can talk about these two guys. What do you want to do?í, " said Gardner, who took Smith on a series of walks to show him the places he and his son slept at during their homelessness.
"You know what he chose. ĎLetís talk about these two guys.í"
This movie looks good. I'm a watch it when it hits theatres