Will Smith opened up about how his new film, Collateral Beauty, helped him cope with his dad’s death last month. The Oscar nominee, 48, sat down for an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, which will air on Thursday, December 8.
“Essentially my character, he experiences a loss and he just loses it,” Smith explained to DeGeneres of the movie. “His life is perfect, and he just completely falls apart.”
The Pursuit of Happyness actor was researching the role around the time that his father, Willard Carroll Smith Sr., was diagnosed with cancer. “I had this screenplay and I’m doing all this research about a guy who experiences death. At the time, my father was given six weeks,” he said.
“But it turned out to be such an amazing thing to have to work through and go through all of this,” he continued. “I’m studying all these things with this character who goes deeply into Christianity and Judaism and Buddhism and everything about God, trying to understand. But my father and I were sharing it during that time, so, you know, the performance for me and the movie for me and the ideas are so deeply personal.”
Smith said that sharing the whole experience with his late father made it some of his most personal work. “What happened was my father lived for four months beyond that point. They gave him six weeks, and what happened was every day became so beautiful beyond the six weeks,” he said. “Then we were sitting one day, and it was at about three months, and he was like, ‘Man, this crap is embarrassing.’ I said, ‘What, Dad?’ He said, ‘Man, you tell everybody you’re going to die in six weeks and three months later…’”
Smith continued, “He passed about a month ago, but it was so beautiful to have the opportunity and to share this and to go and not hide from it. We were looking and talking and sharing everything, so this film for me is the most personal and beautiful journey. When art and life come together in that way, and when you create something that could potentially help people get through difficult times, you know, it’s fantastic.”
Smith also discussed how the movie helped him channel his pain while visiting Facebook Headquarters for a Live Q&A moderated by Maxine Williams, the company’s Global Head of Diversity, on Thursday, December 9. "I don’t need the box office to be huge on this film. I don’t need to win any awards. I don’t care,” he said. "It was the film that I worked on that I was comfortably and beautifully able to say goodbye to my father. And I hope this film embodies that so that other people who are experiencing things like that are able to use it in that way.”
Collateral Beauty hits theaters on December 16.
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