Between revving up for action spectacles like Suicide Squad and Men in Black, Will Smith has consistently made space for emotionally-charged dramas among his filmography, from 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness to 2015’s Concussion. Starring in his latest film, Collateral Beauty, however, struck a personal chord with the actor, who stopped by The Ellen DeGeneres Show Thursday to discuss his connection to his character’s grappling with issues of love and loss, feelings which rang true to those he felt during the final stages of his father’s life.
According to the film’s official synopsis, Collateral Beauty stars Smith as a man “retreating from life after a tragedy,” who “questions the universe by writing to Love, Time, and Death. Receiving unexpected answers, he begins to see how these things interlock and how even loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.”
DeGeneres asked the 48-year-old if making the movie spoke to his recent dealings with personal loss.
“I got the screenplay right when my father was diagnosed… I’m doing all of this research about a guy who experiences death at the time my father was given six weeks [to live],” he said. “It turned out to be such an amazing thing to have to work through and go through all of this. So, I’m studying all the things with the character, who goes deeply into Christianity, and Judaism, and Buddhism, and everything about God, trying to understand. But, my father and I were sharing it during that time, so the performance for me and the movie for me and the ideas are so deeply personal.”
Smith’s father, Willard Carroll Smith, Jr., died on Nov. 7. The actor noted that he lived around four months longer than what doctors had initially suggested, which allowed Smith to share even more time with his dad.
“We were looking and we were talking and sharing everything, so this film for me is the most personal and beautiful journey. When art and life comes together in that way and when you create something that could potentially help people get through difficult times, it’s fantastic,” Smith said. “I hope you all see it, and I hope you love it, and anybody who needs it, I hope it really is able to do for you what it has for my father and I.”
Collateral Beauty, directed by The Devil Wears Prada‘s David Frankel and starring Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, and Naomie Harris, opens Dec. 16 in theaters.
Watch a portion Smith’s full interview, which airs later today on Ellen, below. Check your local listings for showtimes in your area.