Box office champ Will Smith has become as synonymous with the Fourth of July as fireworks and backyard barbecues — but the star says he takes nothing for granted as he opens yet another summer holiday blockbuster with his new action film, “Hancock.”
“I feel like I have a relationship with the audience,” Smith told Matt Lauer on the TODAY set, winding his way through a cheering throng of fans. “They agree they are going to go in droves, and I agree that every time they go, it’s going to be better than the last time.”
Smith, 39, has launched such all-time action hits as “Independence Day” and “Men in Black” on Fourth of July weekends past. And now he is an odds-on favorite to add another film financial bonanza to his resume with “Hancock,” in which he plays a boozy comic book-style hero who has a bad attitude and often does more harm than good.
Smith says the film, which has been in the works for six years, is not like “Iron Man” or “The Incredible Hulk.” In fact, Smith and the “Hancock” team worked to stand the superhero concept on its head. “There’s a genre element of it that we were just trying to get rid of, things like a supervillain and things like the origin of the superhero,” he told Lauer. “We wanted to throw all of that out and really dig into the character.”
But launching yet another 7/4 blockbuster makes for a potentially prickly situation in the Smith household. Smith’s 7-year-daughter with wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Willow, who played Smith’s daughter in last year’s “I Am Legend,” stars in the film “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” which goes into general release the same weekend. Smith laughed and told Lauer he’s already laid down film law to Willow, telling her, “Daddy loves ya, baby, but I have to stomp you at the box office!”
Smith, whose films have grossed more than $4 billion in his prolific career, told Lauer he plans to play the real-life role of public advocate for Barack Obama’s election this fall — saying he can already feel the mood of the world tilting toward America as a result of Obama’s campaign.
“I just came back from Moscow, Berlin, London and Paris, and I’ve been there quite a few times in the past five to 10 years,” Smith said. “It just hasn’t been a good thing to be American. And this is the first time since Barack has gotten the nomination that it was a good thing.”
When Lauer countered, “Do you think people can’t get behind America led by John McCain?” Smith said: “There’s certain ideas I believe Obama stands for that are fundamental, that the forefathers of this country wrote down on paper that we’re all supposed to pay attention to, and we’re not supposed to ignore it and do what we want to do because we have different ideas.”
When Lauer jokingly asked Smith about joining Obama on the Democratic ticket, Smith said it’s all in the ears — he and Obama both have large ones! “America really has an ear fetish, so I think I definitely have the ears.”
Still, Smith’s film fans have nothing to worry about — he plans to keep his day job cranking out Fourth of July summer smashes.
“Affectionately, we call that weekend Big Willie Weekend,” he says. “It’s a weekend that has been very successful for me, and I’m going to ride it until she bucks me.”