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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK


Triumph of the Will

"I know your pain, lady," says Wild Wild West's Will Smith

What is it about being a top Hollywood star that gets Will Smith down? The press attention, the filming schedules? No - it's the action figures that fail "to capture the true beauty of my bum" - confides Big Willie.

"It's beautiful, it's wonderful, it's pert - and friendly," he says, and the 30-year-old seems as passionate about this rear facing talent as he is about his stellar acting and music career.

The plastic dolls, which thanks to Smith's string of hit films grace children's bedrooms worldwide, do have one benefit though.

Sending his son to school with sacks of the toys before they go on sale always wins Smith a swift "best dad in the world" accolade.

West the next test

His latest blockbuster Wild Wild West, a $100m special effects extravaganza directed by Men in Black's Barry Sonnenfeld, promises to shift another legion of anatomically incorrect toys.

[ image: The name's West, James West]
The name's West, James West
Smith takes the film's title role, dapper cowboy James T West - a kind of Stetson-wearing James Bond. Mindful that every Bond needs his Q, Kevin Kline plays inventor Artemus Gordon - source of some truly wild gadgetry.

With its blend of comedy and special effects the Smith vehicle has its sights set firmly on the mainstream - a move bound to attract the ire of the film critics.

Shot down by critics

"They're almost not allowed to like the big summer films," complains its momentarily dejected star.

Poor reviews stateside did not dent the movie's takings at the box office. "We had a number one movie. That got me over the pain of the criticism," says a defiant Smith.

The star - who rocketed to fame in his own TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - was unsure about reviving James T West, made famous by the white actor Robert Conrad in a 60s series.

[ image:
"Inspect a gadget," invites Kline
"There are a few subtle differences between myself and the original James West," Smith pointed out to director Barry Sonnenfeld. "You're a little taller, but no one's gonna notice," was the reply.

Smith is well aware he is one of Hollywood's few bankable black stars. In tinseltown "there's racism, but on a certain level everyone's green... if you can put butts on seats then people will make films with you".

So does he see himself as an inspiration for black youngsters? "It's not something I'm shooting for," he admits, "If children can be inspired... then I accept that."

Set just after the Civil War, Wild Wild West acknowledges America's history of racism. Smith's nemesis in the film is the legless racist Dr Loveless - played by Brit Kenneth Branagh - who's intent on assassinating the president.

Smith eyes the top job

Talking of presidents, it seems Smith's ambitions don't stop at dominating the film and music charts - he wants to be the next Big Willie in the Oval Office.

[ image:
"Vote Big Willie!"
"I'm definitely gonna be President of the United States at some point," he remarks confidently.

Smith is already keen to woo women voters. "I know your pain," he says having dragged up for Wild Wild West. "I'm in touch with the woman inside me and it was an opportunity to let her come out to play."

The experience made him see men differently. "The guys knew I was a guy, knew it was me, but were still looking at my breasts," Smith recounts indignantly.

Fans of Smith's work as a rapper, have no fear - not even high office will stop Big Willie getting jiggy with it.

"I create music for fun. It's about me, what I think, what I feel."

Smith seems to have it all, a fine voice, a knack for comedy and the hottest bot in town. Is there anything to keep his feet on the ground?

"Well, my son says 'Dad, I don't know why people laugh when you talk - you're not really that funny'." The box office receipts seem to disagree.

Wild Wild West opens in cinemas across the UK on Friday, 13 August.

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