Will Smith, back with “Emancipation”: “The Oscars gave me a few difficult months”

He returns to the top of the poster. Banished from Hollywood after the slap given to Chris Rock at the Oscars ceremony last March, Will Smith has since kept a low profile. We didn’t even give very much of his career anymore, and the posting ofEmancipation, the feature film he produced, directed by Antoine Fuqua for Apple TV+, had been postponed for several months until the media storm subsided. But the awards season has already returned and if some voters from the prestigious academy have declared that they will boycott the star to condemn his inappropriate behavior, his interpretation at the same time powerful and all in interiority in this very beautiful film taken from a history true deserves a nomination for the statuette of the best actor.

Transfigured by a very elaborate black and white image, Will Smith gives life to a runaway slave in the swamps of Louisiana with the hope, in the midst of the Civil War, of reaching the north of the country where Lincoln grants freedom to blacks. Photographed during a medical examination in a soldiers’ camp, his bare and mutilated back, published in 1863 in Harper’s Weekly magazine, was to help change America’s view of slavery. Does the extraordinary destiny of a survivor driven by his desire to find the love of his family echo the desire of the actor to do everything to reconnect with his audience? A rapprochement that makes Will Smith smile, in great shape and in full seduction operation for the time of a short interview by Zoom a few weeks ago.

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What convinced you to embark on the adventure ofEmancipation ?
Until then, I had never wanted to shoot in a film that takes place during the period of slavery: I did not feel comfortable with the idea of ​​being reduced to my African-American roots. I’ve always wanted to play roles that were offered to my white-skinned colleagues: I want to play a doctor, a lawyer, a superhero… And then I read the script forEmancipationand it’s the first time that, in this type of story, I’ve seen the character’s aura outweigh the suffering. The central theme is more freedom than slavery: if he succeeds in surviving all that he is made to endure, it is because he absolutely wants to find his family. I was eager to understand how, after such trials, one can remain a human being capable of still believing in God. The film highlights the power of love over that of hate: a notion that we forget today and which we would nevertheless really need!

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The central theme is more freedom than slavery

Did you know the photo of the real Gordon?
I was very young the first time I discovered it. In the United States, everyone has seen this shot one day, which provokes extreme emotion, but no one wonders what the man in the image has really experienced. If I decided to do Emancipation , it is to put a name to this face and this tortured body. I also wanted to say that his story is not just that of the black people but that of the American people as a whole. The scope of the message is even universal: everyone can identify with the destiny of an individual ready to bear anything to find those they love. By recalling how brutal we can be towards others, I hope thatEmancipation will show once again that compassion and listening must be at the center of our societies.

What were the challenges on set??
In addition to crawling in the heat in the swamps in the middle of insects as huge as they are aggressive? [Rires.] I knew that the direction of Antoine Fuqua, who wanted to make a film as beautiful as it was brutal, would be extremely demanding both physically and mentally. I was not deceived ! Everyone sweat blood and water to pay tribute to Gordon. This role changed me forever.

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I hope the film crew does not suffer the consequences of what was one of the worst moments of my life

It’s true that you deliver a great performance. From those that appeal to the Oscars… Do you hope for a nomination after the slap in the face given to Chris Rock during the last ceremony?
It got me through a tough few months…I hope the film crew doesn’t suffer the consequences of what was one of the worst times of my life and career, and that all the amazing artists who collaborated on Emancipationwill receive the rewards they deserve. And if I am invited again to the ceremony, I will make sure to take the necessary pills to keep me quiet!

Emancipation, by Antoine Fuqua, with Will Smith, Ben Foster. 2:12 a.m. Available Friday on Apple TV+.

We want to say thanks to the author of this short article for this amazing material

Will Smith, back with “Emancipation”: “The Oscars gave me a few difficult months”