Will Smith Recalls the 2 Directors Who Banned ‘Will-isms’ in Their Movie; ‘They Beat Those Things Out of Me’

After 30 years of acting, it is not surprising that Will Smith has things he does naturally that he calls “Will-isms.” However, when he starred as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness, the directors wanted to see more from the Hollywood star. The two directors of the film, Michael Mann and Gabriele Muccino, told the actor to go away until he could show them more.

Will Smith
Will Smith | Karwai Tang/WireImage

Will Smith recalls the directors of ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ telling him to stop ‘posing for my camera’

When Smith made the 2006 film about Chris Gardner’s early life and homelessness, it was challenging for him to strip himself of the “Will-isms” he was accustomed to doing. 

“[Gabriele Muccino] and Michael Mann are the two directors that I’ve worked with that know all my tricks,” the Aladdin star told Live About. “They can see right through me and all of the Will-isms and the things that I know how to do to make the audience laugh or smile or cry.”

Will Smith and Director Gabriele Muccino
Italian director Gabriele Muccino and US actor Will Smith | Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

However, the directors didn’t want to see any of those stock things Smith did in every movie. Sometimes, they were harsh in telling the actor to give up until he could get it right.

“‘You’re posing for my camera,'” Smith recalls Muccino telling him. “‘I don’t want you to pose for my camera.’ He said, ‘You’re making faces like you are hurt. We will shut down; you go away, you come back when you hurt for real.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ I know all of those things, and they beat those things out of me.”

Smith’s son, Jaden, helped him through brutal scenes in the film

Jaden Smith portrayed Gardner’s young son in The Pursuit of Happyness. The 22-year-old actor, rapper, singer, and songwriter was only eight years old, but his father said he gave him the best advice. 

“I was struggling with a scene,” Will recalls. “Seven, eight times [Gabriele Muccino] was coming up and giving me notes. With a particularly difficult scene, I was struggling, and Jaden said to me, ‘Psst, you just do the same thing every take, Daddy.’ And I was like, you know, I was a little offended by that.”

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However, the actor recalls that his son was right. Will realized he was overthinking everything, and Jaden helped him break out of that “mechanical space” he was stuck in. Will tends to over-prepare for everything in his life. The way he was planning to do the scene wasn’t what the directors were looking for. The actor is thankful that his son put things into perspective for him.

Muccino and Mann didn’t want the same faces from ‘Men in Black’

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones | Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

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The directors were unwilling to let Smith perform his go-to moves. The star recalls feeling like Allen Iverson unable to do his crossover. 

“[Muccino] was like, ‘Nope, that’s not in this movie,'” Smith recalls. “‘You’re Chris Gardner, so you’re going to create in a different way. You’re going to find different things, and however long we have to shoot until you discover it, that’s how long we’re going to shoot. But what we’re not going to do is the same face you made with K at the end of Men in Black.'”

The actor remembers a scene where his eyes get very red in The Pursuit of Happyness. However, he doesn’t let any tears fall and he admits that was “all authentic.” The directors pulled that challenging emotion out of him.