Jeff Goldblum is back. Bill Pullman has returned. Randy Quaid isn’t here, but he has a semi-valid excuse. So why didn’t original Independence Day star Will Smith return to the franchise that helped launch his big-screen career, now that Roland Emmerich has gathered the gang once again, 20 years later, for Independence Day: Resurgence?
The answer is complicated. During a press event on behalf of the launch of the anticipated sequel, Emmerich addressed the absence of his A-list star. The way that the director recounted, Smith initially was very excited about returning to Independence Day, where he’d once again play courageous fighter pilot Captain Steven Hiller. Emmerich told us that the sequel was going to have a father-son aspect to it, with young Jessie Usher cast as Hiller’s child, Dylan. Vivica A. Fox even agreed to return as former-stripper Jasmine. The family unit was basically intact for Independence Day: Resurgence.
Then, as Emmerich puts it, After Earth happened. And all of a sudden, Will Smith wasn’t eager to rush into a science-fiction story structured around a father-son duo on an adventure. Emmerich told us:
In the very beginning, I wanted to work with him and he was excited to be in it but then after a while he was tired of sequels, and he did another science fiction film, which was his father-son story, so he opted out."
Meaning Resurgence now needs someone else to chomp a cigar and punch the alien invaders in the face.
Earlier in the day, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Independence Day co-writer and producer Dean Devlin about Will Smith’s absence, and while he’s now speaking from a point of moving forward without a major talent, the way that he described the writing process on the sequel without Smith made a lot of sense. According to Devlin, the original Independence Day was a true ensemble picture, with Smith, Goldblum, Pullman, Fox and even Quaid getting their individual moments. Devlin explained that adding Smith, now, to a sequel would automatically make him the star of the film. Once they knew Smith wasn’t returning, Devlin said the creative team was able to go back into the script and redistribute the action, so that Independence Day: Resurgence will be a true ensemble pic that has plenty of memorable moments for the original cast, and the newcomers looking to carry the torch. Emmerich did say that they will deal with the "disappearance" of Will Smith in a "very respectful way," saying that the character "is still part of this universe." But it doesn’t sound like a cameo is happening, because it wouldn’t make sense in the new story.
There are plenty of new faces to fill Smith’s void, however. In addition to Usher, Emmerich has cast Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, Joey King, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Angelababy and Sela Ward, playing the President of the United States of America. They will be banding together in a global conflict when a fresh wave of aliens returns to our planet, possibly seeking vengeance for the events of the original film. Independence Day: Resurgence opens in theaters on June 24, 2016… without Will Smith.