Over the course of his career, Will Smith is one of those actors who has carefully cultivated a very friendly, amiable public persona. He doesn’t swear in his music, he doesn’t stir up controversy in his personal life, and even when discussing hot button issues like race in Hollywood, he’s delicate, measured, and political. Basically, he comes across as a nice, solid dude, though allegedly, according to one costar, he was a huge dick on the set of the Muhammad Ali biopic Ali.
Actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez played Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali’s corner man, in Michael Mann’s 2001 Ali. He and Will Smith had worked together before on Made in America and had a swell experience, but this time things did not go so well. In an interview with San Diego radio station Rock 105.3, Rodriguez calls Smith an "A-hole" and even claims that the star was steroids to bulk up to play the legendary boxer.
According to Paul Rodriguez, the problems originated with a set visit from the real Ferdie Pacheco. He arrived on set "drunk as a skunk," as Rodriguez says, and got mad at Will Smith because his part wasn’t bigger and because he wanted Andy Garcia to play him. Allegedly it got to the point where he was hurling racial slurs at the star.
After this incident, where according to Paul Rodriguez, the police had to remove Ferdie Pacheco form the set, Will Smith treated him differently, almost projecting his anger at Pacheco onto Rodriguez. He even said "really offensive stuff" to Rodriguez, though he couldn’t elaborate on what those things might have been on the radio. He even implies that his part was cut down drastically in the finished movie because of this animosity.
From Paul Rodriguez’ standpoint, this all came out of nowhere, and the only possible explanation he offered was that it could have been a side effect of steroids. He goes on to say that he doesn’t know for a fact that Will Smith was using artificial means to pack on muscle for the part, but speculates about that fact due to, just a few months before, Smith being "beanpole" and became massive for the part in short order.
For his part, Will Smith has long denied that he used steroids to gain his physique for Ali. He reportedly spent more than a year preparing to play Muhammad Ali by boxing for hours a day, studying Islam, working with dialect coaches, and laboring to put on the requisite weight so he resembled the legendary heavyweight. As a result of his efforts, he was nominated for his first Academy Award for Best Actor (his second nomination came five years later for The Pursuit of Happyness).
Who knows if what Paul Rodriguez says is true or not, but it certainly paints a different picture of Will Smith than most people have. He even says he’ll never work with him again.