Will Smith from The Pursuit of Happyness

“Independence Day,” “Men in Black.” “Enemy of the State.” … Will Smith. He is big-budget blockbuster. Even his first Oscar nomination was portraying a man larger than life — Muhammad Ali. Now he has found a different path, and he brought his son (Jaden Smith) along for the ride. Don’t worry, he’ll be back doing blockbusters such as “I Am Legend.”

But now it’s time for “The Pursuit of Happyness” — which opens Dec.15 — the real-life story of Chris Gardener, a father who struggles in poverty while taking care of his son and his attempts to rise above. And yes, if you’re curious, Smith is really that good at the Rubik’s Cube.

The day after he was on “Oprah” in November, I had a chance to join in a round table with Smith. The interview was supposed to last 30 minutes, but he stuck around for an extra 15. He’s got charm, a couple of gray hairs and plenty to talk about …

On choosing this role …

“There is a combination of simplicity and depth. It’s so basic and so simple that a 5-year-old could understand what’s going on. Yet, it’s so deep and textured and complex that you can talk about it with great minds for hundreds of hours. The pursuit of happiness is so connected to the idea of why America works. This is the only country on the face of the Earth that Chris Gardener could work. I just knew (this film) resonated with me.”

On his “Oprah” appearance …

“I was sitting on the Oprah couch yesterday and they announced my son’s name. And he walked out, and the audience had seen the movie, and they gave him a standing ovation. I realized they were clapping for him, it wasn’t because he was my son. He had broken off from me and Jada and there was absolutely nothing I can do … it will never be the same.”

On the real Chris Gardener …

“Chris and I connect on that perception on the universe and how things connect. The stock market world is all patterns and connections. We both love Sudoku; we were in sync from the beginning. Chris was there every day. He and I would go out and he walked me through the places he and his son had slept. He took me to Oakland and showed me the actual bathroom that he and his son slept in. When I walked out of that restroom, I could play Chris Gardener.”

On his son and co-star Jaden Smith …

“He changed how I act. We were on the set for about two weeks. He looked up at me and said, ‘Daddy, you do the same thing every take.’ So I started watching him and he’s doing what acting is really supposed to be. He’s living in the moment. If we’re sitting there talking and his scarf becomes interesting, he’ll grab his scarf while doing the dialogue. I had to re-evaluate how I perform and I stopped preparing. I got acting coaches to try and strip away all of the thinking I’ve done, the mechanical thinking.”

On acting with his son …

“By bringing my son, it was cheating. When you are acting, it’s about looking in someone’s eyes. And all of the love and trust is in my son’s eyes already. And to be able to deliver that on screen, it was emotional before we even got to the script. It was a 71-day shoot and he worked 69 eight- to 10-hour days. I really was dragging my son around. There was only one time the entire shoot that he couldn’t do it. There were parallel journeys going on.”

On his job …

“I’m not the type of person who has a fear of things going the right direction. Everything is really perfect. I’ve always felt my job as an artist is to create images that inspire ideas that inspire change. That’s exactly what this film is.”

On meeting a hero …

“I met with Nelson Mandela in Africa and felt so small. But at the same time I felt the truth and ceiling blow out on how big I could actually be.”

On overcoming difficult times …

“To sleep in a bathroom with my child, that’s a moment I don’t know. I haven’t really been tested like that. My life hasn’t dealt me that level of test to determine if I really am who I really think I am. The hardest thing for me was my divorce. I don’t believe in divorce. That was one of those tests, and I failed. I survived and hopefully I’m stronger, more certain about who I am. And more careful with the situations and relationships I put myself into.”

On Smith’s moment of “happiness” …

“Getting ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ was like that. John Quare didn’t even want to meet with me because I was a TV guy. I’m begging, I study all the monologues, and prepare and John Quare is going to come to the ‘Fresh Prince’ set and meet me. I had read for Arsenio Hall’s role in ‘Coming to America’ and didn’t get that, so I had been doing a lot of readings and people weren’t feeling me. I started wondering if ‘Fresh Prince’ was where I would live and die and I knew I needed to break it with ‘Six Degrees.’ He walked into my dressing room and (looked around). Then he said, ‘You’re him.’ And that was it.”

On being a movie star …

“I love walking into a mall on Saturday afternoon and they have to shut it down. I specifically go to Philly on Christmas to go to the King of Prussia mall, ’cause it’s one of the most crowded malls. I love people. For me, ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’ connects to a thing that ‘Star Wars’ did for me. Imagine, hope and all those things popped into my mind when I saw ‘Star Wars.’ Even now reading scripts … it’s hard for me not to make that genre … like I’m chasing that feeling. “Star Wars’” and “Thriller” are burned in my mind that I can’t shake it. ‘I, Robot’ — that’s a no-brainer. I am so enchanted by that idea of showing something you can’t see. I’m 38 now and my knees are telling me otherwise.”

On potentially winning an Oscar …

“I’m going to give you two answers. The one I’m supposed to give you and the one I shouldn’t. It would be an absolute honor to win an Oscar, and there are so many people that worked on this film and the film is such an important addition to cinematic film history. It would be an honor that I would accept on the backs of hard work of thousands of people. For me, that period between the nomination and the actual awards is the best time. Everybody won when you are nominated. It’s a time of celebration that then deteriorates into competition. The actual show is like the balloon pops. When I was nominated for ‘Ali,’ I didn’t say it then, but I wanted Denzel (Washington, for “Training Day”) to win. I really wanted him to win. I really didn’t want to win. There is something about that, ‘And the winner is…’ moment that is distasteful to me.”

On what really matters …

“I want to be able to create things that make people feel like I felt watching ‘Star Wars.’ I want to be able to create things that make people feel like I felt sitting with Nelson Mandela. That inspiration, that hope, that belief is equal to food and shelter.”

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