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MONDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2007

I AM LEGEND'S WILL SMITH

LOS ANGELES --The Continuum today continues its series of reports on I Am Legend with a press conference with the movie's star, Will Smith.

Following is an edited transcription:

Question: How was shooting in New York City?

Smith: Shooting in New York, especially something on this level, is difficult. I would say that percentage-wise, it's the most amounts of middle fingers I've ever received in my career. I was like, "I'm used to people liking me. When I come to town it's fun, so I thought "Middle fingers?" I was starting to think "f-you" was my name.'

We shut down six blocks of Fifth Avenue on a Monday morning. That was probably poor logistics, which was poor planning. You realize that you have never actually seen an empty shot of New York. When we were doing it, it's chilling to walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. There is never an opportunity to walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. At 2 o'clock in the morning on Sunday you can't walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. What happened is that it just created such a creepy energy. There are iconic buildings, there is a shot in the movie with the UN, there is Broadway, and it puts such an eerie, icky, kind of feeling on the movie when you see those shots. Logistically, it was a nightmare, but it absolutely created something that you can't do with green screen, and you can't do shooting another city instead of New York.

Question: What about the loneliness of your character, Robert Neville, and the madness he begins to feel? Basically you are acting for the first half of the movie by yourself.

Smith: It was such a wonderful exploration of myself. What happens is that you get in a situation where you don't have people to create the stimulus for you to respond to. What happens is that you start creating the stimulus and the response. There is a connection with yourself, where your mind starts to drift, so in those types of situations, you learn about yourself things you would never even imagine.

In order to prepare for that we sat with former POWs and we sat with people who had been in solitary confinement. That was the framework for creating the idea. They said, "The first thing is a schedule. You will not survive in solitary if you don't schedule everything." We talked to Geronimo ji-Jaga, formerly Geronimo Pratt of the Black Panthers, and he was in solitary for over three months. He said that you plan things like cleaning your nails. You will take two hours, which you have to because it's on the schedule, which you have to just clean your nails.

He said that he spent about six weeks and he trained roaches to bring him food. I'm sitting there like, "Oh my God." 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.

For me that was the thing, to be able to get into the mental space where whatever the truth was for Robert Neville didn't matter. The only thing that mattered is what he saw and what he believed.

Question: You've had a passion for I Am Legend since you were going to do it with director Michael Bay. Why has Neville stayed with you for the past 12 or 13 years?

Smith: Robert Neville staying with me this long, I think with movies I am really connecting to the Joseph Campbell idea of the collective unconscious. There are things that we all dream. There are things that each one of us has thought, that connect to life, death, and sex. There are things that are beyond language. To me, this is one of those concepts. Times that you have been on the freeway many times and wished that everybody were dead. [Laughing] There have been times where things have gone and you just wish you were by yourself. You don't need any of these assholes. You just want to be by yourself. That, coupled with that separation from people, being ripped away from people, being separated, connected with the dark and unknown of the dark. It's how we would fair against whatever is in that unknown is a really primal idea. I couldn't always articulate it like that, but I've loved this concept. It connects to ideas that a four year old can understand."

Question: You've had experience saving the world in Independence Day and Men in Black. What would you do in a real life disaster? Have you ever had to play the hero in the real world?

Smith: That is always a tough question. That is what is interesting about playing a character like this. You get to explore and wonder how you would react. For me, Ali was the greatest time of asking myself that question. When Ali didn't step forward because they wouldn't call him Muhammad Ali, and he knew he was going to jail, he knew what the situation was going to be, but still he couldn't step forward. I just remember thinking in that moment, "What would I do?" I just don't know if I would be enough man to give up everything I have right now, the way Ali did, for that principle.

When I look at Robert Neville, I think, "What was there to live for? What was there to hope for? To wake up every day and try to restore something that is good and gone?" I like to believe that I would put my chest up and stand forward, just march on and continue to fight for the future of humanity.

I would probably find a bridge and say, "I'm coming to join you Elizabeth." It's a tough question and I guess the answer is, I don't know. I don't think so. You want to be tested to know what you would do, but you really don't want to be tested. That is sort of the space that I have lived in with quite a few of the roles I have played.

Question: How attached did you get to Samantha the dog in I Am Legend?

Smith: Oh, Abbey is the dog's real name. When I was probably 9 years old, I had a dog Trixie. It was a white Golden Retriever that got hit by a car. So now I refuse, I have had no animals. "Jada, you can have the dogs you want, the kids can have the dogs they want, but I'm not putting myself emotionally connected to a dog anymore." Then, they brought that damn Abbey on the set. You say a smart dog. It got to the point with Abbey that she would be playing, playing, playing, and she would hear, "Rolling!" so she would run over to her mark and get ready. I was like, "What in the hell?"

It's like she would know when I wasn't doing my lines right. If I would get lost in the scene, she would just go silent you know?

It was the first time I had allowed myself to connect and be fond of a dog since that experience, and to the owner I said, "Please, Abbey had to live with me. Please." He was like, "Well, this is how I make my living, man.' I was like, "Tell me what you need. Tell me what you need. A house in the hills?"

But she was smart, just fun, and warm. I experienced the pain again, because he said, "I'll bring her over every weekend Will, but she has to work." It was painful. She is great. I used to watch Lassie and animals really can be smarter than other animals. She is way on another plane of connecting to what your energy is, what your feelings are, and protective. It's beautiful."

Question: Two other movies have been made from this book. Did you look at those and did you read the book?

Smith: Yeah, I looked at both of them. And there's a couple of versions of the book also. It is such a primal concept, like the idea of being alone and the fear of the darkness. Like every 4-year-old has thought about that idea of being separated from their family and being alone and it being dark, and what comes out of the dark?

So to me, the idea just in general, is in the collective unconscious, that we're all keyed into these fears and to these hopes.

As far as these other film versions, the thing that I felt we'd be able to do with this film is that there's never been this level of technology to support the idea. Where you actually can shut down six blocks of Manhattan, and if a car goes by in the background, you don't have to worry about it and just do the scene and you can just remove it later. So you actually can see empty New York, you actually can see fighter jets take out a bridge. That level of technology has never been around to support the weight of this story, so I felt like it would be a great opportunity to see visuals and to experience emotions that in the past you haven't been able to.

Question: Was it comforting for you to know that I Am Legend's author Richard Matheson considered you perfect for the role of Robert Neville?

Smith: That's extremely helpful. With The Pursuit of Happyness and also with Ali, when you do something that is someone's baby, essentially, it is so important that that person or people feel that you've done justice. It was important to me that Mr. Matheson felt that I could do it and he was on board for it. And Ali was planning on doing it and, at the end of the day, that he felt like we had done a service to his vision. And, to me, when he signed off, it was all good.

Question:What's next for you?

Smith: Working with Gabriele (Muccino) on something in March. It's called Seven Pounds. Gabriele has a wonderful insight on who I am and how to get the best out of me. Michael Mann and Gabriele Muccino... You know how people can have X-ray vision on you? There are some people that you can't pull tricks on, they know exactly what is going on. They see you, right to the heart of who you are, and what you are feeling. That is the relationship I have with those guys. I'm definitely looking forward to getting back in there with Gabriele.

Hancock is July 4 with Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Peter Berg directed. Akiva Goldsman, Michael Mann and myself are producing.

Question: What is Hancock about?

Smith: If you can imagine, it's the Michael Mann version of an alcoholic superhero. It is so bizarre. Michael Mann developed a script about an alcoholic superhero.



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