Actors are often tight-lipped about their blockbuster flops and failures, and it seemed Will Smith was adhering to this policy when it comes to 2013's scif-fi failure, After Earth. That is until now.
In a recent interview with Esquire, Smith spoke openly about his disappointment with After Earth, and even went further to suggest how the film's failure has led him to reevaluate his approach to life.
He opened up after the Esquire reporter reminded him of a quote from his Fresh Prince of Bel Air days. In one episode, Smith's TV aunt advises his character, “Don’t let success go to your head and failure go to your heart.”
When faced with this quote, Smith responded:
That was a valuable lesson for me a few years ago with After Earth. That was the most painful failure in my career.
All told After Earth would eventually make $243 million on a product budget of $130 million, which, when you also include marketing and distribution costs, probably means it just about broke even, if not lost money. However, much of this haul came from international market were Smith's name has a big pull. Domestically, the film flopped. Smith even claims he prefers his other well-known critically hated blockbuster Wild Wild West, stating:
Wild Wild West’ was less painful than ‘After Earth’ because my son was involved in ‘After Earth,’ and I led him into it. That was excruciating. What I learned from that failure is how you win. I got reinvigorated after the failure of After Earth. I stopped working for a year and a half. I had to dive into why it was so important for me to have number-one movies.
The whole experience seemed to lead Smith to rethink what was important in cinema, and what was driving him to appear in the movie he chose. He continued:
I never would have looked at myself in that way. I was a guy who, when I was 15, my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me. All I have to do is make sure that no one’s ever better than me, and I’ll have the love that my heart yearns for. And I never released that and moved into a mature way of looking at the world and my artistry and love until the failure of After Earth, when I had to accept that it’s not a good source of creation.
He claimed he was “devastated for about 24 minutes" when he first heard the news of the film's opening weekend figures. However, something happened which suddenly put everything into perspective. Shortly after receiving the figures, there was another call which told him his father had cancer. The combination of these two events led Smith to have an epiphany.
That Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole,” Smith said. “You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.
All told, this is a rather interesting insight into the mind of a movie star. Often we're so used to seeing these people plastered on billboards and magazine covers that we kind of forget their real humans with all the fallibilities, foibles and insecurities as the rest of us.