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Awesome: I Am Legend

Interview: Will Smith on Dogs, Children, and I Am Legend

It's amazing to compare the real-life Will Smith with his on-screen persona of Robert Neville. Walking in the door of the I Am Legend press conference, Smith radiates a sense of both playful youth and a very adult sense of being a father and someone committed to his ideals. It's not hard to understand why Smith's charisma is box office gold. Who doesn't like this guy? Smith spoke about Legend, shooting in New York, working alongside his daughter, falling in love with his co-star, a German Shepherd named Abbey, and about some of the ideals he hopes the film can communicate.

The largest production in the history of New York, Smith didn't exactly make friends with local commuters: "We shut down six blocks of Fifth Avenue on a Monday morning. That was probably poor logistics," he laughs. "Percentage-wise, I would say it's the most amount of middle fingers I've ever received. I was starting to think that f*** was my name."

Still, the barren streets achieved a stark realism that comes through in the final product: "When we were doing it, it was chilling to walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. There's never an opportunity to walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. Two o'clock in the morning on a Sunday, you can't walk down the middle of Fifth Avenue. It created just such a creepy energy. It just puts such an icky, eerie kind of feeling on the movie."

On the idea of the last man on Earth being African American, Smith talked about how he thinks labels like that diminish the impact: "It's almost a metaphysical idea for me. I rarely think about that until someone brings it up... For me, the acknowledgment of those kinds of ideas put a weird boundary on my thoughts that I can't allow to be a part of it because it makes me think smaller."

Embracing the character of Neville, Smith worked with POWs and people who had been in solitary confinement to get an understanding of what happens to a man divorced from human contact: "It was such a wonderful exploration of myself," he says, "because what happens is you get in a situation where you don't have people to create the stimulus for you respond to. You start to create the stimulus and the response. So there's a connection with yourself that where your mind starts to drift to in those types of situations where you learn things about yourself that you would never even imagine."

Working directly with former Black Panther Geronimo il-Jaga, held for 27 years in prison and over three months in solitary, Smith talked about what the experience brought to his character:
"[He] said, the first thing is a schedule. That you will not survive in solitary confinement if you don't schedule everything.You plan things like cleaning your nails and you'll take two hours that you have to because it's on the schedule that you have to just clean your nails. He said that he spent about six weeks and he trained roaches to bring him food. 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 survive. Either way, you put that on camera and it's genius. For me the thing was to get into the mental space where what the truth was for Robert Neville didn't matter. The only thing that mattered is what he saw and what he believed."

The mental state of Neville, Smith hopes, is something that everyone in the world can relate to one level or another: "With movies, I'm 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, sex. There are things that are beyond language. To me, this is one of those concepts. That you've been on the freeway many times and you wished
everybody was dead. There have been times when you've just wished you were by yourself. You don't need any of these assholes. You just want to be by yourself. That separation from people - that being ripped away from people - that being separated, connected with the dark and unknown of the dark. How we would fare against whatever is in that realm of the unknown is a really primal idea. I loved this concept because it connected to ideas that a four year old can understand."

Smith also spoke briefly about his own personal religious belief and how, like thought, they tie to an inner self: "I don't necessarily believe in organized religion. I was raised in a Baptist household, went to a Catholic church, lived in a Jewish neighborhood and had the biggest crush on the Muslim girl from one neighborhood over. I believe that my connection to my higher power is separate from, everybody. I don't believe that Muslims have all the answers and I
don't believe that Christians have all the answers or Jews . I love my God - my higher power - but it's mine and mine alone. I create my connection and I decide how my connection is going to be."

Smith's on-screen daughter is played by his real-life daughter, Willow: "You kind of don't work with Willow," he jokes, "You work for Willow. She just wants it. She has a drive and she has an
energy and she just connects to human emotion."

Smith's co-star for much of the film is Sam, a German shepherd whose real name is Abbey: "When I was nine," says Smith, "I had a dog, Trixie, a white golden retriever who got hit by a car. So I refused - no animals. Jada can have the animals she wants. The kids can have the dogs they want. I am not putting myself emotionally connected to a dog anymore. And then Steve brought that damn Abbey on the set. You say a "smart dog". It got to the point with Abbey where she'd be playing, playing, playing and she'd hear "rolling!" and she'd run over to her
mark and get ready. She would know when I wasn't doing my lines right. It was the first time I allowed myself to be fond of a dog since that experience and I was like - to the owner, Steve, 'Steve, please. Abbey has to live with me. Please!' And he was like, 'Well, this is how I make my living, man.' 'Tell me what you need! [I said] A house in the hills?'"


Here are more information about I Am Legend:
"I Am Legend" Dog Star Abbey: All work and no play?
"Anybody Out There, I Am Legend"


  1. You are really a 'brave' soul. As weird as I am always watching horror movies alone and with the lights off, I can't watch movies with less than happy endings, especially if there's a dog in it.

    I want to watch I Am Legend but I do not want to end up in a puddle, the cry-baby that I am.

  2. Agree.

    Actually I won't watch movies with animals in it. Because I can't stand it when the animals die or something like that. That makes me cry too!

    I cried when I watched I Am Legend. But it's another kind of movie genre that raised thumbs to US movie-makers.

    Enjoy your day!