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INTERVIEW: WILL SMITH ON 'GEMINI MAN'

Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
October 4, 2019

In the action thriller Gemini Man, career assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) faces off against his greatest adversary when a younger version of himself, cloned and raised by a former Marine gone rogue (Clive Owen), is tasked with eliminating him. On the run from a double armed with his elite skills and the advantage of youth, Henry must use his experience to outwit his opponent in a relentless game of survival, assisted by a disavowed DIA agent (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and an old friend (Benedict Wong).

Director Ang Lee uses the story's sci-fi conceit as a vehicle to push the boundaries of cinematography and special effects, presenting the theatrical release of the film in 120 frames per second and creating Henry's doppelganger (designated "Junior") as a fully computer-generated construct fueled by the performance capture of Will Smith. As Smith is quick to point out, this technique is not merely the de-aging tool that audiences have previously seen to turn back the clock on facial features--rather, it is a human character completely rendered by digital movie magic, just as the tiger was in Lee's 2012 Academy Award-winning adventure Life of Pi. He further notes that certain shots of his older incarnation are also created in the same digital manner--a feat that goes seamlessly unnoticed when executed properly.

The various manifestations of technical wizardry are perhaps the best features of Gemini Man, boasting immersive visuals that lack the typical motion blur of speedy sequences, and avoiding the uncanny valley of photoreal CGI people, even in full light. A motorcycle chase through the city culminating in a hand-to-hand fight is the crown jewel of the action scenes, utilizing an environment that feels particularly immediate to showcase Smith's dual roles going at one another in the wild.

In these excerpts from a press conference held at YouTube Space in Los Angeles with the cast and crew of Gemini Man, Will Smith talks about working on the groundbreaking endeavor, from the re-evaluation of his early works that informed his acting choices, to the modern marvels that brought his 23-year-old counterpart to life.

Gemini Man is now playing in theaters everywhere.




MEDIA: What attracted you to the script of Gemini Man?

WILL: You know, I just loved the philosophical idea that we all plant the seeds of our own destruction--we are our own worst enemies, right? We make choices and we make decisions in our lives that set things in motion that we can't blame other people for. And the battle with trying to overcome our karma. I just thought it was a really clever and creative way to say that we are the architects of our ultimate rise or fall. And to be able to do that in this way...It's a big part of why I love science fiction, because you can put those things under really wild, visual landscapes.

How did you approach the task of playing a younger version of your character?

What was really great that Ang did is before we even met, he had gone through all of my filmography, and he grabbed things [from] Fresh Prince, he grabbed Six Degrees of Separation, it was Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black. And he grabbed the scenes, and he was sort of walking me through moments, and he would look and he'd say, [impersonates Ang Lee's voice] "I love very much what you have done in this moment here in Six Degrees of Separation. In Bad Boys, this one was good, but don't ever do this [other thing] in my movie." [laughs] So we sort of created a language of the old characters and the moments of what he was trying to capture. It's funny, before you learn how to act, there's a powerful thing that you have from not knowing. And it's really difficult to recapture that "not knowing." And we found these moments, we found these really honest moments in some of my early work. But I would say of all the things, that was the most difficult part. It almost felt like learning how to do some bad acting. Like "go back to bad acting," because there's an honesty before you actually learn where the light is, and you learn how to stand, and you learn what makes people clap for movie stars in the theater. [laughs] And letting go of all of that stuff was really difficult.

Was the Fresh Prince episode with Will's father one of Ang's references for you?

[laughs] No, he didn't pull that one. With The Fresh Prince, I think Ang found it more interesting to show me what not to do. [laughs]

Did you have fun revisiting your past work?

Uhhh...no. It's no fun at all with Ang Lee up on the edge of his chair, watching everything you've ever done in every moment and breaking it down and describing. Yeah, I wouldn't say that was fun. [laughs] But in terms of it being a film school environment, it was fantastic. I grew as an actor and as a human for the time that I was able to spend with such an incredible artist as Ang Lee.



In what ways did you look to differentiate Henry and Junior with their backstories?

So that was one of the major discussions that we were having, in terms of nature versus nurture, and how if you're genetically identical, how much does your life experience affect the things that you say and do and feel? So we were trying to draw as big a difference as we could between the characters. Henry grew up in a brutal household and he had a tougher upbringing, where Junior had the perfect upbringing with Clive's character. And in Clive's character's pursuit of the perfect human, he was trying to lay out the perfect experience for young Junior, so it was all of the right schools, and he was only allowed to read the right books, and he was only allowed to experience the best of what the nurturing aspects of a home should be. So in drawing those distinctions, it was still interesting that it still came down to two men who had taken these gifts that they had and still turned them into things that were (I'm blanking on what the line was) still going to create nightmares, and that were going to create a horrible end to this experience.

How did you manage to effectively juggle the two roles throughout filming?

What makes someone say, "Oh man, he or she's really an actor's director" is when they understand how to create circumstances for you to achieve the psychological and emotional space that they're looking for. So Ang was really good about separating Henry from Junior in the scheduling. I would get lathered up into Henry, and if the shift is too abrupt, it's hard to get your mind around it. So he did a really great job of separating the time from Henry and Junior so I could spend more time in one mindset or the other.



What was your reaction to seeing a finished shot of Junior for the first time?

It was really crazy the first time I saw it. It was chilling almost, it was a little scary. Because the first one I saw was one of my favorite shots in the whole movie, when Henry flips Junior over in the catacombs and then puts the light up onto Junior's face. That was one of the first completed shots that I saw. And it was a little bit surreal, a little bit weird. And then I started getting excited about all of the possibilities--the young Will Smith/young Marlon Brando movie that could get made, you know? And it could get made while I'm at home, which would be great! [laughs] But it's a full 23-year-old digital version of myself, and my mind just started to go wild about what you'd be able to do. Even how the action sequences were done. Normally you do an action sequence, and you know, you can't actually punch somebody in the face, so you [fake it]. Now, what they were able to do with this technology, you do the scene, you do the swing, and then they take the fist and actually put it on the face of the digital character, and bend the face and throw the sweat and all of that. So when you're seeing those shots, where we're used to seeing misses with sound and blur, now you're seeing full shots in the same way you'd see in MMA. [laughs] So it was a really great new way to do the action. And you do all these different variations, and then the stuntmen can do full takes, and we can do full takes, and then they'll be able to make the most visceral version of it when they get all of those assets into post. So in terms of action, I'm really excited about the use of this technology in the future.

What did you think of shooting in 120 frames per second?

It's so clear, so it responds the way reality responds to your eye. And that was the attempt, to make it a much more realistic experience. So much so, it's so crystal clear, that the actors couldn't wear makeup, because when the camera comes in, you could see makeup on our faces. I had to drink a lot of water, you know--couldn't afford a breakout! [laughs]

In today's climate of franchises, is a movie like Gemini Man a bit of an underdog?

Yeah, absolutely. Definitely in this new world, it's a whole lot safer, from a financial standpoint, to make a part three of something than it is to do something brand new from the ground up. But that's what we were all excited about with this, and what Ang kept saying, and [the] why to push the envelope is to give people a new reason to go to movie theaters to see something that you can't see at home.

Growing up, what works thrilled and inspired you?

Star Wars was the movie when I was growing up that [left me] stunned. Sitting after Star Wars ended, I couldn't believe that they could make me feel like that with a story and with these characters. And I think career-wise, the things I've been chasing are Star Wars and Thriller--the two pieces of entertainment that I've always been hoping to make something that matches for others how I felt when I experienced those.



One of the film's concepts is the idea of utilizing cloning to lessen suffering. What do you think of using cloning to, say, "bring back" a loved one?

I think we all have the human quest to overcome our pain, right? So we're all trying to figure out how to eliminate suffering from our lives. And there was an interesting phrase I heard the other day, they said "poisoned honey"--that we reach for poisoned honey a lot in order to overcome our pain and suffering. When I think about cloning--and we talked about it a lot on this movie--it's one of those scientific reaches that I think that...We've already gone down the road, so I'm sure there's absolutely things that have happened in cloning that we don't know about yet that we're going to find out. But my opinion is that cloning will ultimately pan out to be poisoned honey. It will be a reach that will potentially come back and bite humanity in a way that we're probably not considering fully.

Looking to the future, have you thought about what types of roles you'd like to transition into next?

More than just a transition in roles...You know, I turned 51 last week, and I'm experiencing a transition in my life. More than ever, I'm seeing my role in the world as a role of service. In my younger days, it was ambition--I wanted to win, I wanted to put points on the board. And now I'm kind of growing into the position in my life where the main question that I ask myself before I do anything is, "How is this of service to the human family?" So with that prism, I'll be making more and more decisions in my life. I love science fiction, I love filmmaking, even wanting to do this [press conference] here at YouTube is a bit of an outreach from me to the next generation of artists and filmmakers. And I'm just trying to figure out how everything that I do is conscious and thought out, and of some justifiable service to the human family.

What advice would you have for your 23-year-old self?

That question came up a lot. My younger self was wildly and insanely aggressive--at 23 years old, I was naive and ambitious and aggressive. And there's a power to naivete. There's a power that I'm actually trying to get back in my life right now. So I would be asking my 23-year-old self for advice, because he made some good ass decisions! I was like, "I wouldn't have done it that way!" But he really made some good calls, you know? [laughs] So for me, just in the last couple of years, I've been feeling trapped by the success that I've had, and the decisions and choices I've been able to make have been smaller, trying to protect "Will Smith." So on my 50th birthday, I was like, "F it..." And I just jumped out of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon trying to get back to that youthful, fearless space. So I would be interviewing him more than trying to give him advice.


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