I, Robot: Alex Proyas Directs Will Smith

Will Smith stars as Detective Del Spooner in the high-tech thriller I, ROBOT, suggested by the book of short stories by visionary author Isaac Asimov.

In the year 2035, technology and robots are a trusted part of everyday life. In this film, that trust is broken and only one man, alone against the system, sees it coming.

I, ROBOT employs spectacular visual effects innovations beyond any ever before put on screen to bring a world of robots to life. The character of Sonny, a special robot who holds the key to a murder and perhaps the survival of the human race represents the cutting edge in photorealism. Indeed, Sonny is the most realistic, emotionally complete, three-dimensional CGI character ever created on film.

I, ROBOT is directed by Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow), who creates an extraordinary future Chicago circa 2035 where robots are completely integrated into society. Bridget Moynahan stars opposite Will Smith, as the robot psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin. Bruce Greenwood plays Lawrence Robertson, the corporate head of U.S. Robotics, and Chi McBride portrays Spooners boss and friend Lt. John Bergin.

Actor Alan Tudyks physical performance inspired the digital creation of the robot Sonny. James Cromwell plays the pivotal role of the brilliant and reclusive scientist Dr. Alfred Lanning.
I, ROBOT is a Davis Entertainment Company / Laurence Mark / Overbrook Films Production, produced by Laurence Mark, John Davis, Topher Dow and Wyck Godfrey. Will Smith, James Lassiter, Michel Shane and Anthony Romano are the Executive Producers. Steven R. McGlothen is the Co-Producer.

The behind-the-scenes team includes Director of Photography Simon Duggan (Garage Days, The Interview), Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos (Dark City, Independence Day), Editors Richard Learoyd (Garage Days, Dark City), Armen Minasian (Daredevil) and William Hoy, A.C.E. (We Were Soldiers), Composer Marco Beltrami (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and Costume Designer Elizabeth Keogh Palmer (Dark City).

Oscar-winning Visual Effects Supervisor John Nelson (Gladiator) oversees the films 1,000-plus visual effects shots, depicting Sonny and the other robots, which were based on the designs of Patrick Tatopoulos. In addition, the visual effects team defined and created the physical world of Chicago in the year 2035.
Several key characters from Isaac Asimovs I, Robot stories (including Dr. Alfred Lanning and a younger version of Dr. Susan Calvin), as well as several of the famed authors ideas and concepts, also make their way into the film.
Imagine a world where motorcycles drive themselves, robots conduct symphony orchestras and an animals thought patterns can move a robot. No, these arent projections into the distant future, theyre headlines from todays newspapers. Set just 30 years in the future, the technological advancements in I, ROBOTs Automated Domestic Assistants, architecture, clothing, and vehicles are fantastic yet still easily accessible to audiences.

Given these advances, theres little doubt that in the near future robots will be a trusted part of our everyday life. Every family will have one, or more. They will clean our homes, deliver our packages, walk our pets even care for our children. But what if that trust were shattered That question is at the heart of I, ROBOT.

The story takes place on a technological and social precipice, as the number of robots in the U.S. is about to triple. With the release of U.S. Robotics latest model the NS-5 Automated Domestic Assistant there will now be one robot for every five humans. The first in the next generation of robots made from an ultra-strong alloy, the NS-5 is designed to do everything from babysitting your kids, to cooking your family dinner, to balancing your checkbook. The mass distribution of the NS-5 will solidify U.S. Robotics position as the most powerful company in the history of the planet.

The epic, history-changing events depicted in I, ROBOT were born over a decade ago, when screenwriter Jeff Vintar wrote a spec script, Hardwired, a mystery about a murder that may have been committed by a robot. Producer Laurence Mark shepherded the project, and Twentieth Century Fox acquired Hardwired for development with Alex Proyas attached to direct.

In early 2000, Vintar flew to Australia to begin working with Proyas on the project, a collaboration that continued over two years.
We began developing the script with Alex Proyas, and our goal was to open it up a bit, remembers Laurence Mark. It started out as a rather straightforward futuristic murder mystery, and there was an ongoing effort to broaden its canvas. Also, it seemed wise to go for a movie that took as much advantage as possible of Alexs keen sense of visuals.
During that time, the I, Robot film rights were acquired by Davis Entertainment, and Proyas re-envisioned the film to include additional elements of author Isaac Asimovs work.

Asimovs ideas and characters fit naturally within the structure of Vintars mystery tale.
We married Hardwired and I, Robot together because Fox had always wanted to do a big movie about robotics and it had always been Alexs dream to do a movie of Asimovs short stories, says producer John Davis. It was a marriage that could happen organically because the themes of Hardwired and I, Robot often coincided, adds Laurence Mark.

The world of 2035 believes robots to be 3 Laws Safe. A robot cannot hurt a human being or allow a human being to come to harm; a robot must obey a human beings orders unless the orders conflict with the first law; a robot must protect its own existence as long as it doesnt conflict with the first or second law. Asimov first created the Three Laws of Robotics in his science fiction writing, but his ideas extend into the real world, and even govern the way real roboticists and researchers tackle artificial intelligence.

Asimov really became the best popularizer of science, says co-screenwriter Jeff Vintar. He was one of the pioneers of science fiction and one of the first to write about robots. Before Asimov, robots were written as monsters. He was the first one to treat them not as metal Frankensteins, but as mechanisms that worked by certain rules, and hes credited with writing the first realistic robot stories.

Alex Proyas affinity for Asimovs stories dates back to the filmmakers childhood. When I was about ten years old, I used to read a lot of science-fiction and Asimov was one of the authors that I enjoyed very much. I was a real fan of the science fiction genre and I, Robot was one of the few books that I always thought would be really cool to make into a movie. When youre young, you dream about this stuff and I wanted to make films from a pretty early age. So, I dreamed about turning this into a movie one day.

I thought Asimovs ideas were still incredibly pertinent and contemporary, Proyas continues. Its amazing that someone working in the 1940s and early 50s could project so specifically into the future, and conjecture about ideas that are now starting to affect us in our everyday lives. We are getting closer and closer to the future world he wrote about, so the time is now right to tell those stories.

As Proyas continued to develop I, ROBOT, he and the producers turned their attentions to casting. Its a Hollywood clich when a filmmaker claims to get the one, only and best choice to play the lead. But with I, ROBOT, the filmmakers insist they did. Will Smith was the number one person on our list, and getting him was like winning the lottery, says John Davis. Because the human story here interests us as much as the robot story, thank heaven for Will Smith, adds Laurence Mark.

What attracted me to this film is the concept that the robots arent the problem, says Smith. The technology is not the problem. Its the limits of human logic that is the problem, and essentially we are our own worst enemy.
I, ROBOT is a particularly interesting mix of genres, Smith continues. Its a high-tech action movie, a special effects film, a romantic drama, and a murder mystery. How Alex Proyas took the film back and forth through all of these different types of genres is brilliant. Usually theres a real conflict between the structure of a mystery and the structure of an action movie. They have different climactic builds, but Alex is breaking genre rules and creating something that is going to be new and special.

I, ROBOT provided new challenges for Smith. As an actor, its very rare that youre actually able to act in an action movie. For me its interesting to play a troubled character, because Ive been so successful playing happy-go-lucky guys that save the world. I generally havent played characters that have deep emotional scars and trauma, and I loved diving into the mind of a troubled character. So its a different twist for me.

After Smith signed on to portray Detective Del Spooner and serve as an Executive Producer on the film, he suggested making Academy Award-winning writer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) a part of the team. Smith specifically wanted to bring a harder science and science-fiction edge to the story. We saw this project as something that could be special and something that could be around for a while, says Smith. We wanted to stretch and challenge the boundaries of the genre.

Wills requests were music to Alexs ears and to mine, says Akiva Goldsman, an Asimov fan since childhood. Proyas, Smith Goldsman, producer Wyck Godfrey, and Fox execs convened in Florida, where Smith was shooting Bad Boys II, to work on the screenplay. We holed up in a hotel, and laid out the story scene by scene, Goldsman recalls. We kept the twists and turns of the Asimovian universe that were always present in Jeff Vintars work but made them more suited to a three-act structure.

The filmmakers worked to make the character of Detective Del Spooner stand out from typical genre figures. Spooners aversion to technology and to robots, in a world where theyre an essential part of everyday life was a critical element. Spooner loves older clothes and older music, and he yearns for the simple times, says Smith. He doesnt like the robots, so hes really the perfect detective to investigate this murder, because he already wants to find something wrong.

Spooners relationship with roboticist Dr. Susan Calvin is central to the story, and finding an actress who could be a credible partner and adversary to Will Smith and bring emotional weight to a character created by Isaac Asimov was a daunting task for the filmmakers.

Bridget Moynahan best personified what we needed for the role that real human spark buried beneath a colder exterior, says John Davis. Moynahan embraced the characters complexities. Susan is a robot psychologist who is the polar opposite of Spooner; shes very rational and focused. Everything makes sense to her and she has a very different perspective than Spooner. Susans struggling to stay committed to logic, because that is what she has based her life on. But as the story progresses, she hits a scientific and emotional wall that really changes her and her beliefs. So its fun to watch that journey.

Bridgets and Wills characters are coming at the same problem, but from completely different perspectives, adds Proyas. They have very different beliefs at the beginning of the movie. Spooner hates robots. He doesnt trust technology; hes an old-fashioned guy in this futuristic world. Susan actually prefers robots to people; she is an active participant in creating robots and she believes they can be better than us, that they can improve us. Eventually, those beliefs bring both characters to a crisis for very different reasons.

Spooner and Dr. Calvin are helped in their quest for the truth by a unique robot named Sonny, played by Alan Tudyk. Together, Tudyk and the visual effects team create a true digital star who possesses emotion, intelligence and even humor. The emotional connection between Sonny and Spooner is at the heart of the film.
Sonny is a really interesting and difficult role because he is a robot who somehow has very human traits, says producer Wyck Godfrey. He has an innocence and warmth, because hes built differently from the other robots. Sonny also has a sly sense of humor. Alans a great comedic performer, a great theater actor, and he really pulls it off.

Sonny is like a child, says Tudyk. Some of the time, he just doesnt get it because hes precise and accurate. But hes also nave and optimistic. Sonny was built for a purpose and hes unaware of the purpose. He has all sorts of secrets hidden inside of him and by the end of the movie his ultimate purpose is revealed.

Tudyk arrived in Vancouver a month prior to the start of principal photography to prepare for the role, focusing on bio-ergonomic movement, and speech and mime work. He also did kickboxing, core strength training and balance exercises.

After production began, actor/dancer Paul Mercurio (Strictly Ballroom) was brought in to choreograph the movements for the other robots. Im the only robot who didnt work with Paul, says Tudyk. It actually worked out to be a really great idea since Sonny is a new generation of robot. He is unique and different from all the other robots.

Bruce Greenwood portrays Lawrence Robertson, Chairman of U.S. Robotics, the money man who built an empire on robots. The story begins on the eve of the rollout of the NS-5 personal robot. Were about to offer this wonderful, brilliant technology to the world at an affordable price, deadpans Greenwood. Were introducing a new generation of robots that is far more sophisticated than earlier versions. Its as big a change as the Industrial Revolution, but its going to happen overnight.

One of the overriding themes in this movie is about artificial intelligence versus natural intelligence, adds Greenwood. When does artificial intelligence cease to become artificial and become organic If a computer or a robot begins to think, whats artificial about that I find it all quite interesting.

Chi McBride joins the starring cast as Lt. John Bergin, Spooners mentor and boss. Bergin and Spooner have been friends for a long time, says McBride. There was a traumatic incident in Spooners life that still affects him. Bergins aware of this, and hes trying to bring Spooner along slowly and get him back into the mainstream of being a detective.

Veteran actor James Cromwell portrays Dr. Alfred Lanning, the technical genius behind the rise of U.S. Robotics, whose death begins the film.
Cromwell wanted to be involved with I, ROBOT because of the issues it raises. The film asks a lot of intriguing questions, says Cromwell. Whats the morality of the choices we make What are the ramifications of intelligent machines and how human beings react to them I appreciated the way the filmmakers took a straightforward detective story, and expanded it into an examination of some of the problems that would be posed by these questions.

Having discovered a ghost in the machine that threatens the safety of the human race, Lanning creates holograms of himself that, after his death, provide clues to Detective Spooner. I communicate to him what the problem is and how to proceed. As he describes, Its like Hansel and Gretel following the breadcrumbs along the trail.