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Will Smith says he didn't believe in Wild Wild West

Smith credits Muhammad Ali with inspiring him to take on passion projects

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Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Will Smith has established himself as one of the biggest names in Hollywood, garnering critical acclaim with dramas like Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness and breaking the box office with hit action films like Men in Black and Independence Day. But there is one starring role in Smith’s long list of films that he isn’t as proud of: Wild Wild West. The actor revealed that he took the film role during a time when he was more interested in increasing his star power than making projects he was actually passionate about.

“I had so much success that I started to taste global blood and my focus shifted from my artistry to winning,” Smith said at a Cannes Lions panel on Tuesday. “I wanted to win and be the biggest movie star, and what happened was there was a lag — around Wild Wild West time — I found myself promoting something because I wanted to win versus promoting something because I believed in it.”

The 1999 steampunk Western was a financial success, raking in about $222 million, but it was met with widespread critical derision, earning eight Razzie nominations and winning five of them. Smith went on to admit that he felt like he was tricking fans into seeing the movie during the promotion process.

“I consider myself a marketer. My career has been strictly being able to sell my products globally, and it’s now in the hands of fans,” Smith said. “I have to be in tune with their needs and not trick them into going to see Wild Wild West.”

After Wild Wild West, Smith was more careful in selecting projects that he believed in, such as the 2001 biopic Ali. The actor credits the late Muhammad Ali as his inspiration in opting for passion projects over fame grabs: “He was unwilling to compromise for money, accolades, he was living his values rich or poor,” Smith said.

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