Mr. Smith, You’ve saved the world numerous times, at least on screen, and in the new fantasy action film Bright, you once again help humanity avoid the abyss. Are some people just born heroes?
That’s a good question, but I don’t really have a good answer. And I don’t usually walk around protecting elves as I do in this movie (laughs). But I do like the idea that some people are born to be heroes.
Does our world constantly need new superheroes?
I think so, because it’s such a saturated superhero world out there. It’s nice to throw in some guys who think a little bit differently. I think a new twist always makes it fun.
Is that what you need to stay interested in your work?
Absolutely. I don’t want to get bored, I want to face new challenges. That’s important for me, it keeps my engine running.
In Hollywood, you’re regarded as a right Mr. Charming who never utters a mean word and is always in a good mood. Is that the real you?
That’s real! Every person has a choice when they wake up in the morning. You can go through the day with a positive attitude and be constructive and problem-solving, or you can be negative and in a bad mood. I chose the first option. And so far, I can’t complain too much. It’s been a pretty good ride.
And it’s not like you’re trying to improve your street cred, either. Is it true that during the filming of Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie tried to persuade you to get a tattoo?
Yes, her trailer became “Robbie’s tattoo parlor.” Not everybody got a tattoo, though. I don’t have any ink on me, and I am in my forties now, so I felt it wasn’t right. And anyway, I would have needed to ask my wife first …
How do you prepare for a part? Are you a fan of method acting, the technique where you have to immerse yourself totally in a character’s psychology and personality?
I did it one time for the movie Six Degrees of Separation, but the whole thing backfired. When the movie was over I couldn’t get out of the role. My character was in love with Stockard Channing’s character, and due to my method approach, I couldn’t just turn off my love for her. It was heartbreaking. Ever since then I have stayed away from method acting.
So how do you prepare now?
I’ll take a week or something like that where I don’t break character at all. I do it at home with my family. They understand what I am doing and don’t call me crazy. Then I let it go. This usually works.
Your whole family is involved in the entertainment industry. How do you feel about this?
My wife and I never pushed our kids into entertainment, but it has always been around us: movies, TV, scripts, music. I guess it was just a natural progression for my kids to get into what we were doing.
It doesn’t come naturally to do something mean when I have the opportunity to do something good
You normally play the nice guy, but recently you’ve started playing more unsavory characters. Did that feel very odd?
It wasn’t easy in the beginning. It doesn’t come naturally to me to do something mean when I have the opportunity to do something good. But I’ve gotten interested in parts that are a little darker.
Do fame and fortune change a person’s personality?
I think it depends on what kind of person you are. Fame is like altitude. If you go up a mountain there is less oxygen. Some people can acclimate and breathe and move up gradually. Others can’t handle it. They can’t breathe anymore, and so you start seeing strange behavior. Fame also burns everything in your life. It puts heat on your family, on your friends and relationship. It’s difficult to handle at times.
What was it like for you, climbing that mountain?
I had time to acclimate and fame came to me gradually. The slower pace helped me to keep breathing, and to stay normal, basically. The kids that rise to fame today don’t have that kind of time anymore. Due to social media, they just shoot up to fame and have to deal with it. I call it altitude sickness, and it really kicks in a lot faster.
What about the pressure: Is it stressful being famous?
Oh, absolutely. There’s lots of pressure. And you have to be able to enjoy it in this business. Otherwise, you are doomed. By the way, fame and money are two separate things. There are a lot of people with money that are not famous. The worst of it, though, is to be famous and have no money. That’s just wrong (laughs).
How do you handle personal setbacks?
I am fortunate in being able to leave a lot out there on the set.
A while back I lost my dad, and I was shooting a movie at the same time. In that movie I played a guy that was really sad. I didn’t have to play that part, I was sad, really sad. I thought about death a lot.
Are you afraid of aging?
No, I’m not afraid. For over 30 years I’ve been in the center of the storm. It’s time for others to get the attention and that’s fine. It’s nice to reach a point in your life where you feel a certain satisfaction in what you have accomplished. I think I’ve reached that point.