Will Smith’s latest role isn’t one with many lines. In fact, he rarely speaks. Each word is carefully chosen, poetic and therapeutic. Instead, his character Howard displays complex emotions captured in quiet scenes. We recognized Smith as a masterful actor with many accolades to prove it, but there was something deeper driving his performance this time around. The actor was simultaneously dealing with his father’s death.
Smith transforms into Howard, a high-brow New York advertising executive, for the David Frankel-directed film “Collateral Beauty.” The once exuberant Howard retreats from life after the death of his six-year-old daughter, whose name he cannot speak. He pens three letters to life, death and love.
Set in NYC during the holidays, Howard’s co-workers (Kate Winslet, Edward Norton) attempt to reach him before their company faces irreparable damage. Their plan: hire three actors (Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore) to trick Howard into thinking they are the abstracts in living form.
“I love that this was a guy who had the world on the string,” Smith revealed during an NYC press conference. “Everything was perfect. He had it. He had life figured out. Then suffered a loss and had to make his way to even believe there was a possibility to have joy again.”
Smith’s father Willard Carroll Smith was given six weeks to live while Smith was filming.
“It was a truly beautiful time for he and I was in Howard’s mind studying and reading all of the different religious bases for being able to find an answer for how we recover from this kind of loss. I was sharing that with my father through the experience.”
“The idea of that loss and that type of pain and this type of movie and this film and these ideas have changed me forever. It’s the ultimate human difficulty: how do you deal with death and loss and it was the perfect life, art confluence,” he added.
Smith revealed he chose to work on the film after reading the script.
“When I first read the screenplay, it spoke to that Christmas flavor I remember growing up […]The types of film that are right on the edge of fantasy with that Christmas magic.”
Smith’s co-star Jacob Latimore told us exclusively, “The concept of time I related to the most. What am I doing with my time? Am I being productive? What am I doing in this time to become smarter, or to learn more?”
The young musician-turned-actor, who released his album today, praised his co-star Will for being so “incredible.” “He has such a great heart and spirit. Just being with him last night. His father passed away two weeks ago and I’m sure he was amazed because Will is incredible. He is very positive, strong genuine and kind-hearted guy. One of a kind.”
“Moonlight” star Naomie Harris also stars in “Collateral Beauty” as the optimistic Madeleine, who helps Howard on his road to recovery. Madeleine’s fateful encounter with death exemplifies the film’s underlying theme, to see the collateral beauty in even the most painful of tragedies.
“Collateral Beauty” hits theaters on December 16.