Will Smith Said This Movie Failure ‘Reinvigorated’ Him in a Surprising Way: ‘I Stopped Working for a Year and a Half’

Will Smith has had plenty of successes in his professional career, but he’s had a few flops, too. The actor shared in a 2015 interview with Esquire how one movie failure, in particular, made him put movie-making on pause after it taught him an important lesson.

Will Smith during the After Earth photocall in Gorky park on May 27, 2013 in Moscow, Russia
Will Smith | Gennadi Avramenko/Epsilon/Getty Images

Will Smith shared his ‘most painful failure’

Smith suffered a blow when he made what he called the “most painful failure in my career” — the 2013 movie After Earth. In part, Smith said, it was a tough blow because his son Jaden Smith co-starred with him.

Smith told Esquire how it was even worse than Wild Wild West for him, but the failure taught him a very big lesson.

Wild Wild West was less painful than After Earth because my son was involved in After Earth and I led him into it,” Smith explained. “That was excruciating. What I learned from that failure is how you win. I got reinvigorated after the failure of After Earth.”

Will Smith took some time off

The actor found strength in missing the mark, but said he needed to pause his career to figure things out. “I stopped working for a year and a half. I had to dive into why it was so important for me to have number-one movies,” he explained.

Smith continued, “And I never would have looked at myself in that way. I was a guy who, when I was fifteen my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me. All I have to do is make sure that no one’s ever better than me and I’ll have the love that my heart yearns for.”

He admitted that he held onto that outlook on life and it didn’t serve him well. “And I never released that and moved into a mature way of looking at the world and my artistry and love until the failure of After Earth, when I had to accept that it’s not a good source of creation,” he noted.

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Will Smith’s movie failure took a backseat to sad family news

Smith might have dwelled on that movie bomb but, he said, while he was “devastated for about twenty-four minutes” after he got the box office numbers, “then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer.”

He continued, “That put it in perspective — viciously.”

From his career failure and personal devastation, he said he “started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole.”

Smith explained, “You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”