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Will Smith: I've been trying to recapture freedom and wildness of my younger self

Will Smith revisits his 20s in Ang Lee's ground-breaking action thriller, Gemini Man. And harking back to these youthful days has left him feeling somewhat reflective, as he tells Gemma Dunn

Pushing boundaries: Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Gemini Man
Pushing boundaries: Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Gemini Man
Will Smith with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith

By Gemma Dunn

You name it, Will Smith has done it. And if he hasn't, it's likely going to end up on Will Smith's Bucket List - a daring Facebook Watch series that's seen the rapper-turned actor challenge himself to a number of different experiences.

Sky diving. Bollywood dancing. Supercar racing. Diving with sharks. Stand-up comedy. It's all there. All in addition to his two-time Academy Award nominated and four-time Grammy Award-winning career, of course.

"I've achieved everything I dreamed and I know that fear of the unknown is keeping me from that divine wisdom," he told fans when he set up the platform, shortly after turning 50 in September last year.

"Every time I confront this fear I feel more free," he says.

Now 51, the Fresh Prince Of Bel Air star wants to continue his pursuit to recapture the "recklessness" he felt in his younger years.

"My younger self was naive in a way that he used his power; there is definitely a power that can be derived from not knowing," he muses, when interviewing for his latest film release, Gemini Man.

"I had no idea the size of dreams and what I wanted to do and that naivety created a sort of wonderful recklessness," he adds.

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"And in the last couple of years I've been trying to recapture some of that freedom and that wildness of my younger self.

"For my birthday last year I bungee-jumped out of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. Now that was probably too far..." he quips.

"But I had grown out of taking those kinds of chances. I was really trying to break the bonds and explore and experiment the way I did in my 20s."

He adds: "As I started to be successful I got really precious, I started getting tight and the spectrum of what I was willing to do, what Will Smith could do, was so small.

"I was really looking for my younger self to help break the bonds."

Gemini Man pledges to do the exact opposite.

The big-screen epic will see Smith play both Henry Brogan, a veteran ex-Special Forces sniper-turned-assassin for a clandestine government organisation; and Junior, the mysterious younger operative with peerless fighting skills who is suddenly targeting him in a global chase.

The innovative action thriller - the likes of which is directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ang Lee and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and co - utilises never-before-seen visual effects designed to dramatically enhance the movie-going experience for audiences.

For one, 23-year-old Junior has been entirely digitally rendered, based on Smith's appearance in the 1995 action comedy series Bad Boys (on which he also collaborated with Bruckheimer).

Secondly - and here's the technical bit - Lee shot the film in 120 frames per second (as opposed to the standard 24 frames per second), as well as in 4K 3D, which is intended to "create visual and aural immediacy".

Smith was immediately compelled by the possibilities.

"The contact with a version of your younger self, and as I discovered when I started playing it, the converse, the contact with the version of your older self, it's intriguing, it's scary," recalls the Philadelphia native, who features alongside Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong.

"I've heard people ask a lot of times, 'If you could go back to your younger self and give yourself some advice, what would it be?' And Gemini Man actually creeps into that experience.

"It brings up existential questions about how to live a life.

"I think that the one person playing both roles gives you an opportunity to see to the core of the other characters in a way you generally don't."

To really understand both characters, however, Smith opted to go back and look at old film and tapes of himself from years ago.

"There was almost an unrecognisable quality to my 23 or 24-year-old self when I went back," he says.

"There was a freedom to my early Fresh Prince, Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black days.

"I was trying to go back and recapture to get a sense of what were the thought patterns that led me to some of the behaviour that I had at that time. It was fun to explore and to seek.

"What's really great now in my life, more than ever, is that I'm paying attention to things a lot more than I ever did," he confides.

"And now that I'm starting to reflect a little more, a film like this opens up so many different ideas and concepts."

With Lee's pioneering techniques, the opportunities are endless, he insists.

"What is beautiful with the technology is it's not de-ageing, they didn't use my face and take the lines out and stretch it," he says.

"It's a 100% digital human, the first ever.

"If the audience goes in and comes out believing the Junior character as an actual human being, it opens up magnificent possibilities," adds Smith, who most recently played the Genie in the live-action retelling of Aladdin.

"It's definitely going to change how movies are made and how movies are seen," the actor insists.

"Ang is really pushing the limits of how people consume this type of entertainment.

"He's pushing really hard to give people an experience in the movie theatre that they can't get anywhere else."

Next Smith will grace the silver screen once again as he reprises his role as Detective Mike Lowrey, opposite Martin Lawrence, in Bad Boys For Life.

And he can't wait to get back to the action, especially while his body is still capable.

"I'm 51 and these are probably the last couple of action movies before my knees decide they are not going to do it anymore," admits the father of three (Smith has son Trey from his first marriage and son Jaden and daughter Willow with his actress wife Jada Pinkett).

"I've definitely made the conscious choice that I want to get those super physical roles," he concludes.

"I can feel that my body is about to not do it as easily anymore, so I have made the decision to have some fun and get those physical roles out of the way."

Gemini Man is in cinemas now

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