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Where there’s a Will people In Focus by Richard Crouse December 19, 2008

Six-Degrees-of-Separation-starring-Will-Smith-04Will Smith is the world’s biggest movie star: Nobody can touch him. Cruise jumped the couch, Clooney’s movies don’t make any money and Hanks appears to be in semi-retirement. Only Johnny Depp comes close and he is a distant second.

Last year Big Willie took home $80 million and became the first actor to have eight consecutive movies break the $100 million mark at the box office, but despite all that success a couple of key qualifiers have eluded his grasp.

His home is probably beautiful, but no movie star abode is complete without an Oscar or Golden Globe on the mantle. Cruise has three Globes, Clooney an Oscar and Tom Hanks could start a petting zoo with all his Academy Awards.

Smith has none but it’s not for lack of trying.

He’s best known for playing cops and agents but in his first big screen role, Six Degrees of Separation, he played a gay con man who claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier. The movie earned an Oscar nod for co-star Stockard Channing but nothing for Will’s risky performance.

He says that movie taught him to be totally committed to his roles, adding that he now regrets taking Denzel Washington’s advice not to kiss a man on-screen.

“It was very immature on my part,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘What are my friends in Philly going to think about this?’ This was a valuable lesson for me. Either you do it or you don’t.”

In subsequent films, the ones that made him a star, he developed the tools that came to define his on-screen persona; the cocky tilt of the head and hipster charm. Those tricks win over audiences but don’t win awards.

Then along came a pair of films that put him on the serious-actor-grid, The Legend of Bagger Vance and Ali. Bagger Vance earned poor reviews and even worse box office, but the Michael Mann film about the legendary fighter gave Smith his first Oscar bait lead role.

For the next few years he seemed content to rule the box office, but two collaborations with Italian director Gabriele Muccino — The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds, in theatres today— have brought him closer to the award’s circle.

“Gabriele Mucchino,” Smith says, “is able to help me create characters that are much different from what I would do on my own.”

Pundits called their first collaboration Pursuit of an Oscar Nomination and you can almost sense him groping for the award in Seven Pounds, but I fear he doesn’t stand a chance this year against Sean Penn, Mickey Rourke and Frank Langella.

He may just have to settle for world domination and leave the awards for the poor folks.

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