He’s a business, man. Will Smith got reflective during a Cannes Lions panel on Tuesday, June 21, admitting that he considered his 1999 film Wild Wild West a low point in his career.
“I had so much success that I started to taste global blood, and my focus shifted from my artistry to winning,” he told the audience. “I wanted to win and be the biggest movie star, and what happened was there was a lag — around Wild Wild West time — I found myself promoting something because I wanted to win versus promoting something because I believed in it.”
Prior to the Barry Sonnenfeld–helmed film, which grossed $222 million worldwide, Smith, 47, had already made a name for himself with such big-screen successes as Independence Day, Bad Boys and Men in Black. (He also held the lead role in the popular '90s series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for six seasons.)
When he was busy promoting Wild Wild West, however, he knew his heart wasn’t in the project — something that wouldn’t fly in today’s Hollywood climate.
“Smoke and mirrors in marketing and sales is over,” he continued. “People are going to know really quickly and globally whether a product keeps its promises. I consider myself a marketer. My career has been strictly being able to sell my products globally, and it’s now in the hands of fans. I have to be in tune with their needs and not trick them into going to see Wild Wild West.”
Nowadays, he said, social media is keeping studios honest and forcing them to rethink the kinds of stories they tell on screen.
“It’s funny to go sit in a meeting in Hollywood now,” he said. “It’s a new idea that we have to make good movies. ‘Hmm, I never thought of that.’”
And on a more personal note, the Concussion actor also spoke of how his friendship with the late Muhammad Ali affected his outlook on success.
“He was unwilling to compromise for money, accolades, he was living his values rich or poor,” he said, adding, “Improving lives is how I want to move forward.”
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