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'I am Legend': Meeting the legend himself: Will Smith

By Leslie Morgan     December 12, 2007

"Hey. How you doing? What you all doing?" Will Smith greets everyone with a smile and as he is introduced he begins clapping for himself and then takes a second and cracks up in a fit of laughter, which is contagious. "I'm really excited to see me!"

I can't fully explain it and you would know what I mean if you met the man yourself, but Will Smith is a genuine movie star in the classic sense.  He isn't just a celebrity or an actor, but he is reminiscent of the classic Hollywood stars of the 1940's and 1950's like Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart.

When Will Smith walks into a room, his charisma permeates and everyone grins or blushes.  Practically every movie Will Smith touches turns into gold (which for the top studios in town means big money as the name Will Smith not only opens a movie, but can make that movie 100 million plus dollars).

One of the films that Smith hopes he can turn into gold is 'I Am Legend', which opens on December 14th.  Smith has been involved in the project for over a decade.

"With movies I am really connecting to the Joseph Campbell idea of the collective unconscious.  There are things that are beyond language and to me this is one of those concepts. You have been on the freeway many times and wished everybody was dead.  You just wish you were by yourself and there weren't any of these ass holes. You just want to be by yourself; that separation from people connected with the dark and the unknown and how we would fair in the realm of the unknown is a very primal idea.  I have loved this concept because it connects to ideas that a four year old can understand."

Smith's portrayal of Scientist Robert Neville, presumably the last man alive after a deadly virus kills the human population, is both hilarious as well as heart wrenching.  The process for Smith was an incredible exploration as he worked by himself for more than half the movie.

"You learn things about yourself you never even imagine." In order to prepare for that Smith and the Director Francis Lawrence met with former POWs and with people who had been in solitary confinement.

"That was sort of the framework. The first thing is a schedule. You will not survive in solitary if you do not schedule everything.  We spoke to Geronimo Ji Jaga formerly Geronimo Pratt of the Black Panthers who spent over three months in solitary confinement.

"You plan something like cleaning your nails and you'll take two hours and you have to because it is on the schedule. He said he spent six weeks and he trained roaches to bring him food.  The idea of where your mind goes to defend itself. Either he really did train the roaches, which is huge or his mind needed that to survive.

"Either way you put that on camera and it's genius.  What the truth was for Robert Neville didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was what he saw and what he believed.  I am a better actor for having had to create both sides of the scene with no dialogue."

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