Seven Pounds with Will Smith

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From the director of “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and starring two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith, comes the tale of a man burdened by a haunting secret, who sets out to redeem himself by changing the lives of seven total strangers.  Once his plan is set in motion, nothing can alter it.   However, what Ben never expects is that he will fall in love with one of the strangers, and that it is she who will start to change him.   A mystery and love story, “Seven Pounds” asks some provocative questions about life and death, regret and forgiveness, strangers and friendship, love and redemption, while pursuing the connections that tie human fates together in surprising ways.  

In 2006, with “Pursuit of Happyness,” director Gabriele Muccino and star Will Smith worked on an extraordinary story, that of a homeless father who courageously rebuilds his life, becoming a corporate success on nothing but grit, love and hope.  The film became a major hit and garnered acclaim and honors, drawing both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Smith’s deeply affecting performance. 

Now, another original story brings the pair together in “Seven Pounds,” a love story between Ben Thomas, a man preparing to do something extraordinary for seven strangers, and Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), one of the strangers, whose life-changing effect on him was never part of the plan.  The draw for both director and star was the chance to create a different kind of love story, which is not just about an unpredictable and deep romance but about the redemptive power of selfless love. 

Mysterious Journey

“I was drawn to the story because it’s about a very mysterious journey that is itself a declaration of love,” says Muccino.  “To me, it’s about a man who is gripped by loss and gets an unexpected chance to have a newfound experience of life.  It’s a challenging, unsettling, moving story with an incredible amount of emotion. And the exchange of ideas and exchanges of inspirations that has been so incredibly powerful in this movie could only have happened with Will Smith.”

Blown Away by Concept

Smith feels similarly.  “I was blown away conceptually by the script,” he says, “and by its ideas about finding purpose, about the powerful necessity to attach meaning to our lives. It’s an incredible modern love story I don’t think we’ve seen before.  And this team led by Gabriele has such powerful insight into human emotion–they know how to find it and nurture it.  I felt that when you put all that together, and add in people like Rosario Dawson and Woody Harrelson, it would be a real recipe for success.”

Smith continues:  “For me, it was also another chance to tell a story about this same central human idea that continues to fascinate me, how do we as humans overcome great trauma  How do we go on when everything goes wrong  In that vein, 'Seven Pounds' is a redemptive story that also has a truly unexpected ending.” 

Personal Redemption

Screenwriter Grant Nieporte notes that he sees Ben’s urgent quest for personal redemption as something more, as a highly unconventional love story that broadens his horizons far beyond what he ever expected.  “The story began for me as a mystery but it became a back door into a love story that’s as unexpected for the audience as it is for Ben,” Nieporte says.  “Ben’s only focus is trying to find good, decent people to help, but in the process he starts to find himself in a place he never imagined happening:  being charmed and getting drawn out by and having very strong emotions for Emily.  He thinks he is essentially dead to the world, and then he meets her and nothing is the same.  I love that when he finally finds this very unusual woman who can bring him back to life, who can open his heart, he has to make a very difficult decision that brings his story full circle.” 

When producers Jason Blumenthal, Todd Black and Steve Tisch of Escape Artists, who also produced “Pursuit of Happyness,” came across Nieporte’s script, it stood out as that rare thing in today’s Hollywood:  a story they’d never before encountered. Blumenthal recalls, “The minute I read the script, I knew we had something very special.  It was unlike anything I had ever read, unlike anything I’d ever seen.  I loved that that the deep mystery of it evolves and unfolds before your very eyes. It starts off with an IRS agent who is doing something that most people watching this movie will find foreign.  He is actively seeking people to help.  Then, as we discover why through the course of the story, it becomes an incredible love story.”  Adds Black:  “This love story was organically there and the idea of telling a unique love story in 2008 was very exciting.  We knew right away we wanted to make it.”

Blumenthal, Black and Tisch also intuited that this would be the right project to reunite the team that had been so successful and had become so close to one another on “Pursuit of Happyness.”  Says Tisch:  “We had been able to get Will Smith for 'Pursuit of Happyness,' because the material was so good.  And we felt that as with 'Pursuit,' 'Seven Pounds' would give Will an opportunity to play a character he’s never played before, to go into new and exciting territory.” 

Loss and Sacrifice

So they brought the screenplay for “Seven Pounds” to producer James Lassiter, Will Smith’s partner at Overbrook Entertainment.  Lassiter recalls that his reaction was strong and immediate. “I was drawn to 'Seven Pounds' by its unique story of loss, sacrifice, and redemption,” he says.  The main character piqued Lassiter’s interest in making the film. “The protagonist is an entirely original character, one that you don’t usually see on the screen,” Lassiter continues.  “I was thrilled by the opportunity to tell this story – as a producer, you don’t get those chances every day.”

With Smith coming on board, there was consensus that Gabriele Muccino, the Italian director who made such an auspicious Hollywood debut with “Pursuit of
Happyness,” should again take the helm.  Muccino had built an exceptional rapport with Smith during the filming “Pursuit of Happyness,” even developing a shorthand way of communicating with the actor.  Even more importantly, the producers felt Muccino had just the right sensibility to handle the film’s mix of raw, romantic feelings, human mystery and larger life questions with both honesty and a vibrant, creative visual style.  “I felt from the very beginning that the film would be in very capable hands with Gabriele at the helm,” adds Lassiter. “'Pursuit of Happyness' was very rewarding experience for me as a producer, so I was very excited to work with Gabriele again.”

Intensive Rehearsal

Known for his method of using intensive rehearsal and probing conversations to get to the heart of characters, Muccino’s temperament was a match with the intensity of the drama.  “What Gabriele was able to do so well was evoke the visceral feeling of the love story,” says Black, “and bring it to the screen in a passionate, compelling way.”  Adds Tisch:  “Gabriele brings a non-traditional kind of energy and point-of-view to filmmaking that’s very special.  And because this was the second time that he and Will were working together, that made it even more intense.” 

Muccino was equally excited to reunite with the team.  “What’s so great about this particular team is that they allow me to keep my European approach while making movies in Hollywood,” he comments.  “As for Will Smith, we have an incredible amount of trust in each other and that makes anything possible. I can easily say I have never worked so well and so easily with anybody in my entire life.” 

In “Seven Pounds,” Will Smith plays a man in a search of seven lost souls – and a coming-to-terms with himself.  Driven by a tragic accident, Ben Thomas is on a mission to drastically improve the lives of a group of complete strangers.  But much as Ben wants to help the world, he is also a man who feels cut off, alone, unable to relate to the very humanity he seeks to help, until he meets Emily, who brings a rush of emotion and exhilaration back to his life, complicating everything. 


Different Kind of Role

The role was quite unlike any Smith has tackled in his celebrated career as one of Hollywood’s most popular and diverse leading men, including his two Oscar-nominated roles as the iconic Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s “Ali” and as the striving father in “Pursuit of Happyness.”  Smith says he was especially intrigued by the nuances of this role, and because it’s about a man who is in the middle of a transformation he doesn’t think is possible. 

“The interesting thing is that Ben begins this story as someone who’s obviously trying to commit to loving acts, but he isn’t able to commit to the pain of actually loving someone,” he explains, “and then suddenly Emily gets him. She gets him in that way we all get got, in that way that one day you look into someone’s eyes and she looks different than she did yesterday.  There’s a glow and a light that’s illuminating and you know your life has changed.” 

Profound Changes

Ben’s life is changed in ways he never saw coming, and those entirely internal but profound changes are at the heart of Smith’s performance.  “The delicate part of the story was revealing how Ben is actually thinking mostly about himself when he begins his plan, but only after meeting Emily does he start to naturally become more self-less. That one little turn on the road to redemption is what makes his story so powerful,” he says. 

The conflicted perspective and extreme emotional lockdown from which Ben begins to emerge over the course of the film were overwhelming at times, admits Smith.  “Ben is so much the complete opposite of who I am, with the darkness of his thoughts and feelings, that it was a very difficult emotional space for me to live in during the production,” he says. 

Part of what bolstered Smith through Ben’s dark night of the soul was the very intense yet organic chemistry that he developed with Rosario Dawson.  He says:  “She just captured the heart and humility of Emily and it was very inspirational to watch the way Rosario opened up in the film.  The thing about Emily is that she has also experienced trauma, but she reacts to it in a very different way than Ben.  She can still laugh and dream about life, whereas Ben has refused for a long time to even imagine the possibilities of a brighter life.  I think that’s what draws him to Emily.  He can’t figure out why she’s still reaching for life, and the more he sees that, that more it gets to him.” 

Man and Humanity

Most of all, Smith was inspired by the larger scope of the story.  “The love story between Ben and Emily is beautiful, but that’s just one layer of it.  For both Gabriele and me, 'Seven Pounds' is ultimately not only about a man and a woman who find each other at a moment of crisis for both of them, but a love story between a man and humanity.”

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