After more than three decades into his career, Willard Carroll Smith Jr., more popularly known as Will Smith, remains one of the most successful and sought-after actors of his generation in Hollywood. Intelligent, witty, and hardworking, Will Smith is one of those actors who isn’t afraid of exploring something new or one to be afraid of taking on some of the most physically, emotionally, and psychologically challenging roles in mainstream cinema.
The makings of a movie Star
Born Willard Carroll Smith Jr. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Caroline (nee Bright), a Philadelphia school board administrator, and Willard Carroll Smith Sr., a U.S. Air force veteran and refrigerator engineer; Big Will grew up in West Philadelphia’s Wynnfield neighborhood, with his elder sister, Pamela and two other younger siblings, twins Harry and Ellen.
With the possibility of attending MIT to study pre-engineering [summer] programme; Smith turned the opportunity to go to college down in favor of starting out as an MC of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, with his childhood friend Jeffrey “DJ Jazzy Jeff” Townes - who he was introduced to in a chance meeting at a house party - as turntablist and producer.
Based on the success of their partnership, the duo was brought to the attention of Jive Records and Russell Simmons. With relative success as recording artistes, winning two Grammy Awards for their songs, “Parents Don’t Just Understand” (1988) and “Summertime” (1991); Will Smith got into some financial trouble with the Internal Revenue Service for underpaid taxes to the tune of $2.8 million.
Luckily for Will Smith, it was about this time that NBC television network signed him to a contract with a Sitcom around him called “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. The show was a successful hit launching Smith into the cinematic world and the beginning of a successful acting career.
Having found his way into television and acting, Smith set for himself the goal of becoming “the biggest movie star in the world”, studying box office successes’ common characteristics. His first major role came in the drama 'Six Degrees of Separation' (1993) and ‘Bad Boys’ (1995). But his big break on the silver screen came in Roland Emmerich’s ‘Independence Day’ which became the second highest-grossing film at that time.
Will Smith’s status as a box office draw came when he starred alongside Tommy Lee Jones in the massive hit movie, ‘Men in Black’ in which he starred as ‘Agent J’. The film grossed over $589.3 million worldwide against a $90 million production budget, becoming that year’s third highest-grossing movie. The movie received international critical acclaim, with many praising Smith’s performance.
With an acting career that was on an upward spiral; Smith made one of the poorest decisions of his career, turning down the role of ‘Neo’ in ‘The Matrix’ in favor of the disappointing ‘Wild Wild West’. Smith says he harbours no regret regarding his decision because he was sure he couldn’t have done better than Keanu Reeves’s performance as Neo.
Since then, Will Smith has played a variety of roles which included heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali in ‘Ali’ (2001), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor which eventually went to Denzel Washington for his role in the movie ‘Training Day’ and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.
In 2005, Smith entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for attending three premieres in a 24-hour period. On December 10, 2007, Smith was honored at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where he left an imprint of his hands and feet outside the theatre in the presence of many adoring fans.
On December 14, 2007, the film ‘I Am Legend’ was released with the opening becoming the largest ever for a film released in December and cementing Smith’s status as the number one box office draw in Hollywood.
With consecutive box office successes with movies like Men in Black 3, Concussion, the live-action adaptation of Disney’s Aladdin, which grossed over $1 billion worldwide, and Bad Boys for Life; Will Smith bestrides the cinematic universe like a colossus and making us wonder what this silver screen god will bring to life again.