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Will Power and The Pursuit of Happyness

What makes a superstar? Some would say it is a celebrity’s popularity throughout the world. Others would say it is an actor’s versatility that sets one apart from his or her peers in Hollywood.  Will Smith has both.

In his latest film, The Pursuit of Happyness, Smith proves his acting talents reach far beyond the action films and romantic comedies for which he is most well known. He takes on the more serious role of Chris Gardner, a father who finds himself homeless and raising his young son on the streets of San Francisco.

The real-life Gardner’s story was first featured on ABC’s news program 20/20 in 2003. The news story explained how Gardner unwaveringly fought for his dreams and went from being homeless to making millions and owning his own stock brokerage firm. After Smith was given a copy of the segment, he knew he wanted to take on the role.

It was Gardner’s determination to succeed that Smith said he found inspiring.

“Your desire to be who you want to be and your commitment to that is what creates your future,” Smith said. “And to me that’s the idea that this country is designed upon -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We are not promised happiness, Smith said, but we all have the opportunity to pursue it. Gardner is an inspiring example of someone who faced insurmountable odds but would not accept failure as an option.

Smith shines in his portrayal of Gardner. The performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination just last week.

“You think you know what Will can do,” said co-star Thandie Newton. “He’s so known in the world. He’s revealed so much of himself in his music and everything. TV shows have gone on and on (about his talents), and yet here he delivers something new, and he went deeper. I think he brought a lot of his own personal stuff to the story.”

But the film was also an opportunity to demonstrate his versatility off-screen.

“I was amazed that Will had so many roles on this film,” Newton said. “He was an actor. He was playing someone who was already living and wanting to honor that; that adds another layer to a performance. And he’s being a dad. And he’s kind of being an acting coach to his son. Unbelievable!”

Actually, Smith said, he may have learned more lessons than he taught during his son’s film debut.

In one scene in particular, Smith said his son helped him. “Jaden just looked up and he said, ‘You just do the same thing every time daddy.’  What innately didn’t connect to him is, how can you give the same performance every take? I’m saying different stuff. I’m doing different stuff. And if we are supposed to be living in these moments, why are you not reacting to the new stuff that’s happening?”

Smith said he realized that while he carried his roles of producer, actor, and celebrity with him into a scene, his son was more in the moment and solely focused on the character he was portraying.

“It’s a block that I’ve had in my career for a lot of years, and this is the first time that I’m feeling myself free of that,” Smith said.

Most likely, he said, it will change the way he approaches acting for years to come.

“I’m finding that space where I’m committing to the truth of the character, and it’s such a liberating, artistic space.”

The result is a performance full of raw emotion that seems to be resonating with audiences nationwide. The film garnered the number one spot at the box office during opening weekend, beating out Eragon and Charlotte’s Web, and knocking Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto from it’s previous perch at the top of the list.

With the recent Golden Globe nomination, the Oscar buzz has already started, but Smith is taking it all in stride.  

“I’ve never been an awards guy,” Smith said. “I tell my wife all the time, I’m more of a mall guy. Like, when I walk into the mall on Saturday afternoon, if they don’t shut it down, then I feel like I’m slipping.”

With this latest film earning an estimated $27 million in its first weekend, his star-status doesn’t seem likely to slip any time soon.

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