By Derek Lawrence
May 22, 2020 at 11:45 AM EDT
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Credit: Fox

The theaters may be empty and the popcorn machines may be lying dormant, but it's still summer movie season — which is why we're looking back on classic moments from years past, as part of EW's Retro Summer. From improvised dance moves to awkward lip-locks, here are the behind-the-scenes tales from a few of our favorite hot-weather hits. 

In 1996's sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day, Will Smith may have been the one fighting the aliens, but Vivica A. Fox was fighting just to get cast.

A young veteran of the soap opera circuit, the then-31-year-old actress was a regular on The Young and the Restless, struggling to be taken serious outside of that realm — even by her own team. "I remember my agent was like, 'Oh, honey, this movie is a big budget film, you’re just on a little soap opera, so I don’t think we’re even going to be able to get you in on it,'" recalls Fox, who would audition six times for the role of stripper and single mom Jasmine Dubrow. Once she finally got in to read, Fox keyed in on the "stripper" part of that description, showing up in "a white patent leather jumpsuit, six-inch heels, and makeup," causing the casting director to declare at the conclusion of the session, "Thank God you can act." Fox says she was told to think "stripper with a heart of gold" and to go home and watch Speed and Sandra Bullock. "I walked in the next time with this cute little flower dress on, combat boots on and some ankle socks," shares Fox. "As soon as I walked in, she says, 'There you go! Now let’s go get that part.'"

Upon landing the role in director Roland Emmerich's alien-invasion film, Fox instantly realized that she wasn't in daytime soaps anymore. "One of the first days that I got to film with the entire cast, I walked into the soundstage and there was this spaceship," shares Fox, thinking back to her agent's words. "I was like, 'Oh wow, we’ve got a lot of money. She wasn’t kidding.' I had never been on a set of that magnitude in my career, so that was when it really dawned on me."

While that was Fox's first day with the main group, she actually began filming in the "extremely hot" and "not glamorous" salt flats of Wendover, Utah. She was thrown right into the action, with Jasmine, her young son Dylan (Ross Bagley), and their dog Boomer trying to make their way through the aftermath of the alien attack. Jasmine is suddenly thrust into savior mode, finding a working construction truck and driving around the ruins to collect injured survivors, including First Lady Marilyn Whitmore (Mary McDonnell). Fox felt like she was having a real movie star moment — until Boomer got fatigued.

"It was really, really hot, and I remember the dog got tired, and I’m holding him and filming the scene, and I’m having my heroic moment and the dog starts humping me," she says with a laugh. "And the trainer was like, 'That’s what he does when he gets tired.' Every time we were doing this scene he would just hump on me. What a first day."

Credit: Everett Collection

Thankfully, Fox's romantic partner in the film was more friend than dog. Years after guest-starring on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Jazz's crazy sister and Will's "date from hell," Fox was reunited with Smith, who played Jasmine's Marine pilot boyfriend, Steven Hiller. Smith was just coming off his first big screen starring role in Bad Boys and Independence Day would mark his official arrival to movie stardom. It was quite the startling realization for Fox. "Will was like the cute goofy little kid from Fresh Prince," she says. "But I remember the very first time that I saw him in Bad Boys and he ran down the street in that scene with that shirt open, and I was like, 'Oh, Will growing up.' And then for Independence Day,  I don’t know what it is about a man in uniform, but I just looked at him and his whole presence and how he walked and the way he carried himself, it was just like, “Will, you are really blossoming into a movie star, dude. Like you’re turning into a hot piece.”

In addition to a "hot piece," Smith would turn into Fox's coach and trainer. As they were filming Independence Day, the actress was in the running for F. Gary Gray's heist film Set It Off, and she says Smith was coaching her through the audition process. She'd end up winning the role of Frankie opposite Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise, and Smith's girlfriend and future wife, Jada Pinkett. And the push from Smith didn't stop there.

"I had a day off and I’m chilling by the jacuzzi, having a little cocktail, and he walked by and saw me and was like 'Come here right now' with the finger like my father,'" shares Fox (currently starring in Arkansas on demand). "He was like, 'What are you doing?' And I was like, 'Enjoying my day off?' He’s like, 'Vivica, upstairs,' and we went upstairs and he made me workout and lift weights. He was like, 'This movie is going to change our lives, you have to take this seriously!' He was really serious about this movie — he knew what it was going to do for him."

Credit: Everett Collection

What it did was catapult Smith to become Hollywood's biggest star, while Fox is proud that they "made history” and “started the trend for must-see summer popcorn movies.” She’s less sure of the merits of their MTV Award-winning Best Kiss.

After being separated for most of the film and believing the other to likely be dead, Hiller and Jasmine are reunited, resulting in an earth-stopping makeout session. “It wasn’t romantic,” recalls Fox. “It wasn't a great kiss, because we were both crying and loaded up on breath spray.” Possibly affecting the ambience was a set visit from Pinkett. Recalls Fox: “She said, ‘Oh, honey, load up on the Binaca and dive in!’ And we did."

Pinkett's advice worked, and the duo would win the peak late '90s-early 2000s award, but Fox was in Africa filming another project and couldn't make it the show. "Anytime you can win an award for kissing a fine woman like Vivica Fox, you know, this is just the life," joked Smith in his acceptance speech.

Unfortunately, the partnership wouldn’t continue with the 2016 sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, which Smith passed on. “We really missed him; we needed that presence,” admits Fox. “I was ready to slobber him down one more time just for old times’ sake — and maybe win another award.”

For more from Entertainment Weekly’s celebration of summer’s best pop culture, order the June issue now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Related content:

Independence Day

type
  • Movie
genre
mpaa
  • PG-13
director
  • Roland Emmerich

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