This year marked the 25th anniversary of the blockbuster film, Independence Day, which solidified Will Smith as a box office movie star.
However, the film’s director revealed that almost didn’t happen and race played a factor.
“The studio said, ‘No, we don’t like Will Smith. He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [markets],’” Roland Emmerich said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starred as the lead, Marine Corp. Captain Steven Hillard, alongside Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Vivica A. Fox.
Smith was ultimately chosen over candidates like Ethan Hawke because of his chemistry with co-star Goldblum. But the studio didn’t think a Black lead will sell in 1996.
Writer/producer Dean Devlin stated, “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.”
The director said the studio dragged their feet to lock in both Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum for Independence Day.
“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.”
The movie grossed $817 billion worldwide, including $306 billion in the U.S. and Canada, according to IMDB.
The year before Independence Day was released, Will Smith starred in Bad Boys which turned into a successful film franchise.
In 1997, he secured his role in Men In Black and the rest was history.
Do you think Will Smith’s career would’ve took a different turn if he didn’t secure the role in Independence Day?