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Will Smith Takes on Dark Role in 'Seven Pounds'


Will Smith reunites with the director of Pursuit of Happyness for an emotional drama of self-sacrifice, redemption and, above all, love.

Ben Thomas announces at the very beginning of the film that he is about to commit suicide. As the details of his previous few months are played out, gradually, the reasons for his choice become clear …even as circumstances change that should make him cling to life. A successful inventor and entrepreneur, he has made a singularly terrible and deadly mistake and, borrowing from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, who demanded a 'pound of flesh' to compensate for wrongs done to him, Ben sets out to give up "Seven Pounds" to make amends for his transgressions.

Will Smith is a movie star skilled at the heightened reality of comic and action hero roles; but, as was the case with Pursuit of Happyness, Smith says Seven Pounds called on him to tap into more genuine, grounded feelings.

"This is a totally new journey," Smith says. "It's a place that I've been scared of in the past. It's something that I've always wanted to be able to do - to be able to deliver on ideas and concepts that are powerful and meaningful - but it's definitely a new skill."

Once again, Italian-born director Gabriele Muccino pushed Smith to keep his performance 'real' and unsentimental while dealing with deep emotions.

"Working with such a big movie star as Will Smith, who was coming from huge blockbusters and was totally aware of his own tools to entertain the audience and bring them from this point to this one, I felt I had to start from scratch with him because those tools …those 'Hollywoodian' tricks …were not really matching with my philosophy," Muccino explains.

Central among the seven people Smith as Ben Thomas sets out to help is Emily, a young woman who will die if she does not get a heart transplant. Rosario Dawson plays Emily and says Muccino also pressed her to drop her movie mannerisms.

"It was really incredible to have somebody who was so intensely sensitive to your tricks and behaviors and 'isms' and really call you on it," she says.

"She is dying and she could really get upset about the cards that she has been dealt and use that as an excuse to be really mean to people and they would accept it," adds Dawson. "She really is not that, though. She really is such a beautiful human being and smiles when she wakes up and goes 'oh, another great, beautiful day' …one that she really notices because she is not guaranteed the next one. It was also present to the fact that none of are. That choice is not so special to her; we all have that opportunity. Our mortality is as close to us as it is to her, though she is a lot more aware of it. Her dignity and her courage in the face of that so moved me and I really hope resonates with the people who really are in her position."

Like Dawson, Smith says the stillness of his role made it a challenge to rein in a natural tendency to be talkative.

"It was exhausting to pull myself down into the mental space of Ben Thomas," he admits. "It was based on the idea of trauma and that was the part that I couldn't understand or internally relate to. I didn't want to internally relate to being broken by trauma. I always play characters like Muhammad Ali and even Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day: people who have these fantastic reactions to trauma. They stand up and beat on their chests; but that is less than authentic for most of us and truly not authentic for me. So I developed it through research and talking and understanding the truth of what it means to lose everything."

As the for the character's quest to counter one terrible act with an array of good deeds: Smith believes it may futile.

"He is looking to 'un-ring' a bell and you really can't," Smith says. "You can ring a new bell and the sound of that new bell can have a healing effect on your ears; but you can't un-ring a bell. In his mind he feels like God made a mistake, so he is turning his engineering skills toward fixing something that is totally un-fixable by our standards."

Seven Pounds also features Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy and Barry Pepper. The screenplay is by a veteran American TV comedy writer, Grant Nieporte; and the musical score is by Venezuela-born film composer Angelo Milli.