Will Smith explains how a film turned his father's death into a 'beautiful journey'

by Ree Hines / / Source: TODAY

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter

In his new film, "Collateral Beauty," Will Smith's character suffers a tragic loss, and as he revealed to Ellen DeGeneres Thursday, it's a part he understood all too well.

"What was really interesting is I got the screenplay right when my father was diagnosed (with a terminal illness)," Smith explained. "I’m doing all of this research about a guy who experiences death at the time my father was given six weeks."

RELATED: Will Smith reveals secret to lasting marriage with wife Jada Pinkett Smith

But the "Concussion" star wasn't troubled by the timing. Instead, he considered it a gift.

"It turned out to be such an amazing thing to have to work through and go through all of this," he said of the topics he had to confront for the part. "I’m studying all the things the character goes deeply into — Christianity and Judaism and Buddhism and everything about God — trying to understand. But my father and I were sharing it during that time, so the performance for me and the movie for me and the ideas are so deeply personal."

Willard Smith Sr. and Will Smith
Willard Smith Sr. and Will Smith at the 'Concussion' special screening in New York, on Nov. 12, 2015.REX via Shutterstock

Willard Smith Sr. lived months longer than he was expected to, and when the end came in November, the actor found comfort in what they'd been through while he made "Collateral Beauty."

RELATED: Will Smith makes 4 increasingly epic entrances on 'The Tonight Show'

"He passed about a month ago, but it was so beautiful to have the opportunity and to share this and to go and not hide from it," Smith continued. "We were looking and we were talking and sharing everything, so this film for me is the most personal and beautiful journey. When art and life comes together in that way and when you create something that could potentially help people get through difficult times, you know, it’s fantastic."

From "Fresh Prince" to box-office king, a look at the actor/rapper's two decades in the spotlight.

"Collateral Beauty" opens in theaters nationwide Dec. 16.

Follow Ree Hines on Twitter.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
MORE FROM today