Will Smith Is The New John Travolta: How Quentin Tarantino Can Make Him Interesting Again

By Katey Rich 2011-05-09 13:48:14discussion comments
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The comments came fast and literally furious when we reported last Friday that Quentin Tarantino might want Will Smith to star in his new film Django Unchained. "Please…no…" one of you wrote. Another one quoted Smith himself: "Aw, HELL naw!" While not everyone wanted to immediately jump off a bridge at the news, there didn't seen to be a single person thrilled by it, at least not to the degree they were when Christoph Waltz was also rumored for a role last week.

With today's news that Sony has picked up the international distribution rights for Django Unchained it seems even more likely that Smith will get the part, and I'm here to stop you Tarantino-philes from chewing on those cyanide tablets. Seriously, hear me out: this could be a good thing, for Tarantino and what's apparently a great script and especially Will Smith's career. He's not the choice you expected or necessarily wanted, but if you've followed Tarantino's career up to this point you might know that's exactly what he's going for.

By now Tarantino is famous for picking up actors out of the ash heap and completely transforming their careers-- Travolta was a washed-up teen idol when he was cast in Pulp Fiction, Pam Grier a relic of the blaxploitation era when QT paid homage to her in Jackie Brown; even Uma Thurman ended a five-year retirement to put on the yellow Kill Bill tracksuit that made her an icon. At first glance Will Smith isn't like any of these examples, still one of the biggest movie stars in the world and powerful enough to create careers for his children seemingly out of thin air; as we speak he's doing the ultimate in self-serving famous people ego-maintenance, filming the threequel that nobody wants, Men In Black III. Why on earth does this guy need Tarantino to boost his career?

Because none of you want him to be in it-- that's why. Ten years ago, when he was Oscar-nominated for Ali, Smith seemed to be a blockbuster name on the verge of becoming an actor capable of doing absolutely anything. And though for a while he went through his career as if they were true-- getting another nomination for The Pursuit of Happyness, shouldering almost an entire film alone in I Am Legend-- it was a series of diminishing returns that resulted in Seven Pounds, his hackneyed disaster of a drama that was his first critical and commercial failure as a leading man. Smith hasn't acted since then, and though he's got plenty of roles in the works, the fact remains that he hasn't himself been a box office draw since 2008's Hancock.

Obviously Tarantino isn't taking a huge risk by casting Smith-- he's one of the few movie stars who can single-handedly get a movie financed, not to mention one of the only black actors who's popular overseas, important given that the central character in Django Unchained is a former slave. But Tarantino knows that you guys-- the movie nerds, the Tarantino die-hards, his kind of people-- are sick of Will Smith, which is what makes him due for a certain kind of comeback. If the movie is good, if it's as solid a role for Smith as it seems and if he tackles it with the energy of an actor who doesn't have the option of just making money by farming out his kids, Will Smith could once again be the kind of actor who surprises you, who makes interesting choices and who single-handedly makes a movie worth seeing. It worked for John Travolta when he was a nobody; why couldn't it work for the world's biggest movie star?
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