Once upon a time, Will Smith was a nobody, struggling to make it as a rapper. Then he landed a part in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and he became Hollywood royalty.
But if he had one wish now it would be that the Genie in Aladdin, his latest movie role, could upstage that sitcom character from 29 years ago.
He says: “The thing that people walk up to me on the street the most for is the Fresh Prince, so if the Genie could knock that character out, it would be fantastic.”
There’s a good chance his wish will be granted as the Genie steals the show in Guy Ritchie’s live remake of the Disney classic, which has Canadian actor Mena Massoud, 27, as Aladdin, and British actress Naomi Scott, 26, as Jasmine.
But Will, 50, reveals he did not immediately snap up the wisecracking Genie role, which was voiced by the late Robin Williams in the 1992 animated version.
He only took it thanks his actor son, Jaden, 20, who was at Aladdin’s LA premiere with dad Will, mum Jada, 47, sister Willow, 18, and Will’s 26-year-old son Trey by first wife Sheree Zampino.
Will admits: “I had a couple of films that I was looking at and I was trying to decide what I was going to do and Jaden walked in the room…I hadn’t told anyone by then that I’d been offered the Genie yet, Jaden was the first person.
“He kind of looked for a second, and he was like, ‘Duh. The Genie. The chance to play the Genie? Are you crazy?’”
His hesitancy was down to nerves, but he credits Jaden with persuading him to take the role, and The Fresh Prince for helping him make the Genie his own.
He says: “There were two levels of utter fear and stress. First of all, any time you make a children’s movie, you know, for me I had kids and growing up I know the kind of questions and things that come from these kind of movies.
“So whenever you make a film that’s directed at children, there is an extra sense of responsibility for me as I’m looking through to understand and to comprehend exactly what we’re saying from moment to moment.
“And then on the other side, of course, was the Robin Williams of it all.”
Williams, who died in 2014, aged 63, voiced the Genie when Will was still in his Bel-Air days.
Will says: “Robin Williams revolutionised what you could do in an animated film. He totally changed the game with the Genie.
“So I wanted to be able to perform it in a way that was an homage to Robin, but at the same time finding the new flavour to capture a current energy.
"When I discovered that what Robin had done is he just essentially took his stand-up persona and poured it into this character.
"When that dawned on me, I could basically do a similar thing with my Fresh Prince persona and just pour that persona into the character.
“So when I found that ‘in’ I was comfortable on both fronts.”
Will was 22 when he landed the part in Fresh Prince after he and his friend DJ Jazzy Jeff had launched a music career, and meeting when Jazzy was DJ-ing a party and needed a “hype man”.
After Fresh Prince’s success, a string of blockbuster movies followed, including Independence Day in 1996, and Men in Black a year later.
He was nominated for Oscars for Ali in 2001 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2006.
Will says he has gone back to his musical roots for his Aladdin role. He grew up in Philadelphia with his school board administrator mum, and US air force veteran dad, determined to rap rather than go to college.
He says: “The music was really my way in for that.
“I have 30 years of entertainment under my belt and this is the first film that actually called on this many aspects of what I’ve cultivated over the years. To be able to sing and rap and dance and do action and special effects, just all of that to come together in one film was really a spectacular job for me to be able to do.”
According to Will, it’s The Prince Ali sequence we need to look out for.
It involves horses, birds, monkeys, and thousands of extras, who took 30 minutes to assemble for each shot.
He says: “I think it is one of the masterpieces.”
The actor’s name has been bandied about as a potential US presidency hopeful, with rumours he may stand against Donald Trump next year.
But, while he would certainly be on the wish-list for many of his fans – and basically anyone who just wants Trump out, so a fair few people – he insists this is one wish that won’t be granted any time soon.
“I think I’m more likely to play Obama in a movie before actually running for the presidency. I think I prefer my day job as an entertainer.”
Wise words – the day job looks much more fun.
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