Will Smith Once Revealed He Only Truly Felt Like an Actor After Starring in ‘Ali’

For Will Smith, starring in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the superstar’s first leading role as an actor. But at one point, if you had asked Smith himself, he didn’t truly consider himself an actor until he did Ali.

Will Smith never dreamed of being an actor

Will Smith smiling
Will Smith | Nick Laham/Getty Images

As many know, Smith started off as a hip-hop artist before making the transition to Hollywood. He had already made his mark in the music industry with his hit single “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” The album the song featured on, called He’s the DJ and I’m the Rapper, went triple platinum, with the song earning a Grammy.

But being an actor was far from Smith’s mind at the time. Most of his dreams were related to his hip-hop ambitions.

“I wasn’t even thinking about the possibilities of being nominated for an Oscar. I never really dreamed as an actor, I always dreamed as a rapper,” he said in an interview with Female. “I dreamed about winning a Grammy. That was huge! I dreamed about winning an MTV Award. I dreamed about seeing my record on the top of the chart, the number one position on a record. I dreamed about that but never really dreamed about being an actor.”

Will Smith didn’t look at himself as an actor until starring in ‘Ali’

After the troubles that faced his hip hop career, Smith saved himself by starring in the hit sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. This saw Smith entering a new phase in his career as an actor.

During and after his years on the sitcom, Smith would get his chance at superstardom by starring in many commercial hits. But it wasn’t until Ali that he truly felt he came into his own as an actor. Mostly because it was such a huge departure from his Fresh Prince persona.

“Ali is really the first time that I started to dream as an actor. Even with Independence Day, Men In Black, Bad Boys – those films were really lending themselves to the same persona that I created with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and with my music, it was still blending itself,” Smith said. “It was almost an extension of that persona and Ali is a real break completely from anything that I had ever performed or any character that I had lived before. So this is really the first time that I am viewing myself totally as an actor.”

But it was his years on The Fresh Prince that caused the Oscar winner to turn down Ali in the first place.

“I couldn’t see the road from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Ali and Michael Mann was the first person to illustrate what he called the curriculum of becoming Muhammad Ali,” Smith explained.

Will Smith once revealed starring in ‘Ali’ changed him

For Smith, playing the role of the legendary boxer wasn’t just a job, but a journey. In an interview with ABC News, he revealed Ali put him on a spiritual path.

“I’m profoundly changed,” he said. “There’s a bittersweet emotion that I feel from playing this role … I want the world to be different because I was here. However lofty or crazy or delusional that may sound, I want people’s lives to be better because I was here.”

Smith also felt at the time that he’d reached the full heights of his career.

“It’s quite highly possible that I have peaked,” he said. “I mean, I just can’t imagine what else I could do beyond this. It’s really a bittersweet kind of feeling.”

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