NEW YORK – Will Smith wants the Fourth of July back.
He claimed it five years ago with the original Men In Black, went on to make it his own Independence Day, but then stumbled with a little something called Wild, Wild West. These days he's more confident than ever — but never cocky. And he thinks Men in Black II breaks the sequel curse because it's a "better film" than the first one.
When we met recently in a Manhattan hotel suite, I reminded him of an important night.
McCuddy: The last time you and I saw each other it was a historic night.
Smith: That's right.
McCuddy: The Oscars.
Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
McCuddy: And you had to lose to Denzel Washington. Was that better than losing to anyone else?
Smith: (Smirking) Whatcha gittin' at? Whatcha gittin' at? Hahahaha. (White guy voice) "Was that better than losing to anyone else? Like Russell Crowe?" No, you know, it's been a long time since a black actor has won Best Actor so I was definitely looking forward to myself or Denzel winning the award. And then when Halle [Berry] and Denzel won, you know, my wife already told me two weeks prior that she was rooting for Denzel.
McCuddy: That's not good.
Smith: No, it's perfect. You know, she said, "Look, Denzel's taken a lot of beatings in Hollywood, that Oscar belongs to Denzel." And I agreed with that.
McCuddy: Do you go visit it sometimes?
Smith: Oh no, I definitely went over there. He let me hold it. And then he has two. (Makes a face) He's got twins.
McCuddy: That's a little piggy.
Smith: (Laughs) So he let me hold the twins. I was like "Wow."
McCuddy: Will anything change now?
McCuddy: Has this established anything?
Smith: I don't think, you know that one award is really going [to] change anything in Hollywood. I think what it does change — drastically — is the hopes and dreams of young aspiring African-American or non-WASP actors, you know? That it's real now. The possibility is real. Like Halle said in her speech, the ceiling's been blast open.
McCuddy: How about what they're doing to Bernie Mac now?
McCuddy: Damon [Wayans] is all upset. Here we have two great shows and now they're going to compete against one another.
Smith: Yeah, I don't like that. I think I'm going to make a telephone call and write a letter about that. Generally I stay out of other people's business. But you know I think that's ...
McCuddy: Was that a mistake on ABC's part?
Smith: It's unacceptable. That's completely 100 percent unacceptable.
McCuddy: If the Fresh Prince was still on the air and they moved you against Damon or they moved you against Bernie would you ...
Smith: That's not happening, you know. And that's just 100 percent unacceptable. We're struggling enough as it is, you know? We had two seasons without any new black shows. And then you're going to pit the only two successful black shows on television against one another? One hundred percent completely unacceptable.
McCuddy: When they called you on Men In Black II did you say, "Wait a minute, sequels always suck!"?
Smith: Hahahahahahaha! Well I say, "There's always The Godfather."
McCuddy: That's everybody's answer.
Smith: I know, right? Um, you know you want to ... the inherent problem is, the reason to make a sequel is because the first movie was great, right? So you're already starting off behind the eight ball because you're trying to top something that was already great. I think we did a really brilliant job of capturing the comedy. The movie is hugely funny. There are some big jokes in this film. I think what you can't ever duplicate is the element of surprise that the first film had. It came out of nowhere, absolutely nothing. Nobody expected anything. It came out of nowhere and was this huge, mega success. But I think this one is a better movie.
McCuddy: And there will be a "3"?
Smith: (Smiling) I hope so.
So does his accountant.
Men In Black II is in theaters now and could break five day opening weekend records.