After Earth arrived in 2013 and was widely considered a failure. For Will Smith, that one hit hard. And now that he’s back on the screen in the con-man thriller Focus, he’s ready to turn the page.
“For me, this film really marks a transition in my life, emotionally and in my career. After the failure of After Earth, a thing got broken in my mind. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m still alive. Actually, I still am me, even though the movie didn’t open at number one. Wait, I can still get hired on another movie.’ In my mind, my entire Mr. July, Big Willie Weekend, number one for eight in a row all collapsed,” Smith admitted.
“I realized that I still was a good person. So, when I went into Focus, I completely released the concept of goal orientation and got into path orientation, with this moment, this second, these people, this interaction. It is a huge relief for me to not care whether or not Focus is number one or number ten at the box office. I’ve already gained everything that I could possibly have hoped for.”
Smith compares the art of acting and making movies to a millennia old art form, and it clearly has him in a moment of Zen unlike any other time in his life. “It’s just painting. I’m going to paint. Some paintings are going to be fantastic -- others are going to be not so good. But I no longer measure the quality of myself on whether or not somebody else thinks what I painted is beautiful.”
As teased in the Focus trailer, Smith plays a con man who meets a woman (Margot Robbie) who aspires to get good at the cunning life of crime. He takes her under his wing and the audience gets to go on a beautifully shot, thrilling and dare we say romantic journey where everything is not what it seems.
“For me, the huge take-away from this film is how everything is perception and how reality almost does not matter, at all. When you’re talking to a person, it only matters what they are perceiving. You only need them to perceive you as a loving husband. You don’t necessarily need to be one,” Smith said. “What people are perceiving will dictate what their life is, and ultimately what your interaction is.”
Without giving anything away, there is a scene at the Super Bowl that is a con that the audience thinks is getting wildly out of hand. It is one of the more thrilling moments we’ve seen Smith in on screen (even more than when you watch Independence Day online).
“I think that Super Bowl scene is probably going to end up being the signature scene of this movie, and it’s just so clever. We say the word con, but it’s so far beyond a con. It is a deep and powerful perception of how the human mind works. It’s human behavior,” Smith said.
“Those ideas are just so intriguing and exciting. And as an actor, you’re playing one scene, but then there’s another scene, that’s the real scene that’s actually going on. And beneath that, the audience is getting played, at the same time.”
See, the crux of Focus is never believe what you’re watching. But, since you are witnessing it on the screen, your brain will think it’s real. But what is real and what is the con may have the slimmest of lines. Can you tell we enjoyed the movie? Yes, “Will Smith the movie star” is back.
Smith was asked about if being an actor is at all like being a con man.
“Part of what was exciting for me about taking on this role is how everybody is running a con. Everyone wants to be perceived a certain way, to gain the things that they have decided are the things that they want in their life. And at the center of this film, there’s the idea that lying and loving don’t go together,” Smith reported. “Everything is a con.”