Will Smith, for a time, in the first decade of the new millennia was one of the most profitable actors in Hollywood. A streak of movies in the 2000s turned him into a bonafide international superstar and it all began with Independence Day in 1996, but according to Roland Emmerich, the actor was almost not hired for the classic alien invasion movie. Above all else, it had to do with race and it took a lot of convincing to get the movie made with Will and Jeff Goldblum attached.
Independence Day was released on 3 July 196 and the film followed a rash soldier with problem following orders and a MIT engineer as they come together after an Alien invasion. As earth mounts its fight back, right on America's Independence Day, heroes rise and help liberate earth from a full scale invasion. The film was a massive box offie success and furthered the careers of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum.
The action movie is still considered to be one of the greatest popcorn entertainments of all time. But according to the director of the film and writer/producer Dean Devlin said the casting choices could have been way different if they had gone along with what the studio wanted. 20th Century Fox was hesitant about having Will Smith be the lead of the film and Roland detailed the battle they fought to get the cast of their choice.
Will Smith's International Appeal Questioned by Independence Day Producer 20th Century Fox
In the 90s Will Smith had a successful rap career and he was starring in a beloved sitcom. The actor was also dabbling in the movie industry and he was popular in America through his appearance in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. So, a movie career would have been next in line for the talented actor. But the powers that be did not think Will's popularity within the US would translate well to an international audience.
It had to do with race obviously, having a black lead would not have inspired confidence within the studio. They were spending $75 million to make the movie so there were some who thought having a male lead would lessen their chances to make some profit from the film. Jeff Goldblum was of no issue to the studio but Will Smith was creating some issue for the director and producer of the movie to get the movie on the floor.
Independence Day was produced by 20th Century Fox and Roland Emmerich along with producer/writer Dean Devlin had to fight with the studio so they could get Will Smith. The director said, "It was pretty clear it had to be Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. That was the combo we thought. The studio said, 'No, we don't like Will Smith. He's unproven. He doesn't work in international [markets].'"
During a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter Dean Devlin continued, "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."
"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.” I don’t think it would have been a possibility [to actually move studios], but it was a great threat," Emmerich added. Soon they got the cast they wanted and the film came out right before 4th of July celebrations.
Will Smith's career was propelled to superstardom because of Independence Day and to think he was almost not cast in the film is mind blowing. Well, it all worked out in the end for everyone as the film went on to gross over $800 million at the box office and became the highest grossing movie of the year.
Recently Roland made a sequel entitled Independence Day: Resurgence. It was panned by the critics and made less than $400 million at the box office. The film came 20 years after the original and Roland Emmerich had plans to start a franchise at Fox. Well, Disney owns the property now and in 2020 the director stated that he would like to continue with Disney.
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