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It’s only been four days since Ellen DeGeneres convinced actor Will Smith to join Instagram, and the Hollywood actor has already mastered the art of selfies and raked up as many as over two million followers. His most recent post on the photo-sharing platform is an image with his Bright co-stars Joel Edgerton and Noomi Rapace as the team sets out on a promotion tour. “Netflix literally has us doing this loop around the world—covering São Paulo, Los Angeles, London, Mumbai and Tokyo in just nine days. We are calling it the Jetlagged Tour,” he jokes when we meet in Mumbai, ahead of the Bright premiere.
Bright, which streams on December 22 on the popular streaming service, is a fantasy adventure directed by David Ayer that presents a dystopian world shared by humans, orcs and elves. A buddy cop film, where Smith plays a human cop paired with an orc (Edgerton), Bright revolves around an alternative world where good overcomes evil with the help of a lot of coincidences. Vogue sat down with Smith for an interview and here’s an edited excerpt:
Bright can be seen as a racial allegory that touches upon various relevant topics such as diversity. Is the movie a commentary on the world today or particularly on life in Trump’s America?
Will Smith: I think anytime you’re creating something, you can’t help but the world makes its way into the art. So here we didn’t talk about it specifically in those terms, but we talked about the overarching, social ideas of mistreatment and just how poorly we treat one another. That was part of what David [Ayer] wanted to illustrate in the film. So like when we were saying ‘The dark lord is coming’, we weren’t thinking of Donald Trump.
How was it playing the black police officer who is racist against the Orcs?
I loved the idea, and the social shift of an African American police officer who is racist. It was such an interesting flip to explore the world from that perspective. It was like using Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy from 48 hours. Just the psychological perspective of superiority—it was fun to play that.
Did the movie offer any insights into racism and how it works?
What I realised is that it’s not just racism, it’s all of the -isms—racism, sexism, classism and nationalism— are an individual’s or a group’s ego struggle for comparative superiority. Everybody wants to feel like they are better than somebody. Even a fight against racism is laced with an individual’s need to feel superior. I never saw it that way, right. So essentially, both sides of any -isms, where one person is winning and the other side is feeling inferior, but both sides are struggling for superiority.
This was also the first time I understood the negative reaction to the word ‘diversity’. We say diversity as if we mean equality, but that’s really not what diversity means. Diversity means ‘I’m gonna use this term for me to get higher than you.’ So when a white male hears the word diversity, it means hire anybody but a white male. Playing this character was the first time I was able to see that difficult, covert struggle for superiority. And the problem got more complex and more difficult to solve in my mind. It was looking at racism from this perspective that I comprehended the aspects of fear, ignorance and the individual and collective struggle that perpetuates and precipitates violence.
This film is a poster for diversity with a cast including characters from Sweden, America, Mexico, Australia and Venezuela. Netflix itself is big on diversity with its wide, multi-lingual offerings. Has Hollywood changed a lot since your Independence Day debut?
Yes and I think that’s a big part of what the technological era is doing. We have moved from the agricultural era into the industrial to now the technological era. What technology is doing is it burns away a super structured ability to perpetuate untruth. So in a place like North Korea, the last thing they’ll want is the open internet so that the people can’t know what is actually not true.
I think what’s happening with technology is that it helps to broaden and create more diversity. It helps give a little bit more power back to the people, so people are interacting in a way that they can’t be fed the super structured life as easily.
The internet also gave birth to a very powerful campaign like #MeToo. As a highly successful actor in Hollywood in the Weinstein era, what was your immediate reaction to this exposé?
To me the whole situation has been bizarre. I have a 17-year-old daughter now who grew up with men that she trusts and doesn’t even comprehend the idea of predatory behaviour. For me, I’ve been talking about it for a while as all these things have been coming up. I’m like ‘I don’t know these guys’, as I’m hearing some of things that people will do. Like, I just don’t know who will do that! I don’t know if i’m naive but to schedule a meeting with someone and the person shows up and you’re in a bathrobe! I have a lot of male friends but I just don’t know those guys!
This is your third time to Mumbai, what makes you keep coming back?
Yeah, this is my third time to Mumbai and my fourth time in India. I should just move in with Akshay [Kumar]. I was just talking about that. We had a dinner at his place last time I was here, and it was literally the best food I’ve ever had. It just didn’t feel right to call him and ask him to send food because I’m not gonna be able to stop by. One thing I love about India is the food at Akshay’s, that’s the absolute best.
I’ve been here a few times, and I love the history. I’m about 90 per cent through the Bhagavad Gita right now and you know, to be reading it and to be here in this country, I feel like my inner Arjuna is being channeled. I’m going to Rishikesh soon so I’m definitely going to be spending a lot more time here.
You are off to Tokyo tomorrow. What’s your trick to fight jetlag?
The trick is just fruits and berries. I’m kidding. The thing I learned a long time ago with jetlag is that you don’t fight it. When you’re tired, just go to sleep.