Will Smith almost not cast in ‘Independence Day’ because he was Black: report
Twentieth Century Fox feared that the film wouldn't perform well in foreign box offices with a Black lead, according to director Roland Emmerich
This July 4th weekend will not only mark the 245th birthday of the United States, but also the 25th anniversary of the blockbuster movie Independence Day.
The film crystalized Will Smith’s transition into a box office movie star. Smith’s charismatic performance as the fighter pilot, who thwarted a deadly alien invasion of Earth, helped the film become a high-grossing hit.
However, that almost didn’t happen, according to the film’s director, Roland Emmerich. As he tells it in The Hollywood Reporter, Smith was nearly rejected for the role because he is Black.
Twentieth Century Fox was the production company behind the film.
“The studio said, ‘No, we don’t like Will Smith. He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [markets],’” Emmerich said.
In the 1996 film, Smith played Marine Corp. Captain Steven Hillard, the lead character in a cast that included Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Vivica A. Fox.
In an interview with THR about the film’s anniversary, Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin stated that they chose Smith over candidates like Ethan Hawke largely due to Smith’s chemistry with co-star Goldblum.
But the studio did not think that a Black man in the lead role would bode well.
Devlin added, “They said, ‘You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill foreign [box office].’ Our argument was, ‘Well, the movie is about space aliens. It’s going to do fine foreign.’ It was a big war, and Roland really stood up for [Smith] — and we ultimately won that war.”
Emmerich stated that the studio didn’t lock in Smith nor Goldblum until late in the process, pushing the director to get forceful with the studio.
“It was pretty shortly before the shoot and we still hadn’t locked in Will and Jeff. I put my foot down. ‘Universal people are calling every day, so give me these two actors or I move over there,'” he said. “I don’t think it would have been a possibility [to actually move studios], but it was a great threat.”
Independence Day wound up grossing $817 billion worldwide, including $306 billion in the U.S. and Canada, according to IMDB.
At the time of Smith’s casting, he was in the sixth and final season of his hit NBC sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
In 1995, he co-starred with Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys, the cop movie that grossed $65 billion at the box office, according to IMDB, and became a successful film franchise.
The year after the release of Independence Day, Smith co-starred with Oscar-winning Tommy Lee Jones in the sci-fi comedy Men in Black that also became a multi-film franchise.
The film’s titular theme song won Smith a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.
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