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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
A fresh prince in a robot's world
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

I, Robot
Smith's character meets his match in an advanced robot called Sonny
Will Smith, the star of the Isaac Asimov-inspired film I, Robot and the film's director, the Australian film-maker Alex Proyas, held a press conference on Tuesday ahead of the film's London premiere on Wednesday.

There are entrances and there are entrances. Just for a minute, Will Smith looks as if he is about to erupt into a major Hollywood strop as he enters the London press conference to muted applause.

There is a look of indignation on his face, and his lean-but-looming frame, dressed in a black polo shot and expensive, baggy combats, appears to bristle with annoyance at this less-than-uproarious salute.

"Come on, people!" he exhorts, until the assembled press pack are whooping, clapping, whistling and hollering like a crowd of fans on the Oscar red carpet bleachers.

Normality - at least for those of us who are not crowd-pleasing Hollywood stars - is resumed.

The tall, resolutely charming Smith sits next to Proyas, a man his almost complete physical opposite, and the two hold court on what may prove to be one of the summer's most thought-provoking blockbusters.

Chilling robot

The film is based on Asimov's book of nine short stories about the behaviour of robots - behaviour kept in check by a system of three laws that prevent them from harming humans, either by their actions or inactions.

Smith plays Detective Del Spooner, a brooding cop with a taste in retro fashions and a deep suspicion of robots.

When the world's leading robot scientist is found dead from an apparent suicide outside his laboratory on the eve of the introduction of a new model, Spooner believes his death holds the clue to a frightening possibility.

The key to this is a chillingly human-like robot, Sonny, who may be implicated in the scientist's death.

Alex Proyas and Will Smith
Director Alex Proyas (left) has said Smith was his first choice for the role of Spooner

Smith, a self-confessed maths and science fan, says he revelled in his role - though he does not share his character's fear of technology.

"The core of the Isaac Asimov paradigm - and the three laws - is that there is nothing wrong with technology. In this movie the robots are doing exactly what they were programmed to do.

"It is man's arrogance to think that he can confine the universe into laws. Ignoring our intuition is only going to leave us in the situation we see in I, Robot," he says.

Sage words

"This film is an indictment of human logic, and not an indictment of technology."

These are sage words indeed from a film star who is not averse to relaxed wisecracking. Asked at one point whether he would like a robot himself, he says yes.

Asked further what kind of job he would most like it to do, he adopts a tone of quiet outrage. "I can't talk about that here," he says.

Will Smith
Unlike his character, Smith said he had no fear of technology

Oddly, for a film about the replacement of human roles in society by robots, Smith and Proyas say creating their main character Sonny was very organic - computer animation stitched on to an outline of actor Alan Tudyk.

"The body language is Alan Tudyk, the voice, the facial movements, it's all Alan... it's the physical choices of an actor," Smith says.

Proyas agrees. "I think the connection you have is the audience for that human being there, and not the programme that makes him look like Sonny."

Smith has an air of inclusive charisma easily matched by his director's stereotypically easy Australian style.

He is affable when asked about his roles in successful but critically panned films - take a bow, Wild Wild West - and whether it's led him to take on something darker and much-less suited to his characteristic style.

"Hey, Bad Boys is possibly the most pain I've experienced. A better movie was inside that movie we had - we should have knocked 25 minutes off it, brought it down to two hours.

"As opposed to Wild Wild West, where we just missed. It was a swing and a miss."

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