×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Will Smith Explains Personal Decision to Tackle NFL’s ‘Concussion’ Crisis (VIDEO)

Benicio Del Toro landed an Academy Award for 2000’s “Traffic,” in which he played a conflicted police officer. His new film, “Sicario,” puts him back in the world of drug trafficking, but as a very different character — a mysterious, dangerous man bent on revenge. Will Smith has earned two Oscar nominations for playing real-life people in “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” He stands to earn his third nod for his portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a doctor who fought against the National Football League to expose the danger of head trauma in players. Among many topics, the two spoke about their mutual love of Roger Deakins and Eddie Murphy.

Will Smith: I got that call that actors love to get. It’s late on a Friday afternoon, and I get the call that says, “Ridley Scott’s on the phone for you.” He said, “I’ve got a gift for you.” And he sent me “Concussion.” I read it immediately, and I remember thinking, “This ain’t no damn gift! I’m a football dad.” So for me, it was a beautiful screenplay, but it opened up a huge conflict. How did “Sicario” come to you?

Benicio Del Toro: I read the script. I thought it was original. And then I got to meet with Denis Villeneuve, the director. His enthusiasm, his vision, his sensitivity to the project convinced me. And then there was the cast and, last but not least, the director of photography, Roger Deakins …

Smith: I’m a real Roger Deakins groupie!

Del Toro:
I know. Me too.

Smith: He asked me to leave him alone the other night. It was the first time I met him. I was like, “Hey man, listen, I love what you do!” He said, “Well thanks, man. Come on, you know, you’re embarrassing me.”

Del Toro:
Those elements put together — script, director, actors and Roger Deakins — that made me want to do it.

Smith:
(I met) the director, Peter Landesman, and Dr. Bennet Omalu back to back. Peter Landesman is an investigative journalist; he’s rock solid. Dr. Omalu is a Nigerian immigrant, and he said something to me, a line we used in the movie. He said, “As a little boy growing up, heaven was here, and America was here (just beneath).” To him, America was the place where God sent all of his favorite people.

Del Toro:
And that’s in the movie.

Smith: That was really huge, when I can latch onto that desire. I’m always looking for the one thing that covers the entire movie, you know?

Del Toro:
Right.

Smith:
When I was 15, my girlfriend cheated on me. And from that moment, in this bizarre psychological twist, I wanted to be the most famous entertainer on Earth, because I believed that your girlfriend couldn’t cheat on you. It’s that really bizarre psychological leap, and I’m always looking for that in my characters. Have you ever struggled to find a character? Have you ever gotten closer and closer to set and hadn’t had it yet?

Amanda Demme for Variety; Fashion available at Westfield


Del Toro:
I don’t think I ever find them. It just keeps evolving. I always feel, to be honest with you, like I get the closest I can get to the character on the last day of shooting, on the last take. I used to beat myself up for that.

Smith:
When you got started, who were you modeling yourself after? Who were who were the people that you were like, “All right, I want that?”

Del Toro:
When I started going to movies, there were three. It was Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy and Richard Gere. After I started acting, then it was Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn. And then there were other young actors that were doing stuff that was a bit more contemporary, like Sean Penn and Gary Oldman. They were going out there and taking chances, and that’s when I started acting.

Smith: For me, my early life and desire to be an entertainer was all Julius Erving and Eddie Murphy. I grew up in Philadelphia so, you know, 1983, ’76ers, world champions. And Julius Erving was, and still is, such an absolute gentleman. And then when I started thinking about moving toward acting, it was right at the heart of “Raw” and “Delirious” and “48 Hrs.” I was like, “Oh my God, I want that, I want that.” And it was that combination that really formed the early parts of my career.

Watch the full interview:

Variety’s “Actors on Actors” special airs Dec. 27 on PBS SoCal.

More Film

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content