Digitally de-aging Will Smith for Gemini Man wasn't enough — they had to roll back his acting chops, too. Ang Lee's upcoming sci-fi flick stars Smith as Henry, an elite assassin who has to go toe to toe with a younger clone of himself, played by a digitally de-aged Smith.
While digital de-aging is becoming increasingly commonplace in filmmaking, having been utilized in Tron: Legacy and Terminator: Genysis as well as a handful of X-Men and MCU films, to Lee it involved much more than motion capture and CG-rendered wizardry.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, both Smith and Lee elaborated on some of the nuances involved in the production at a Gemini Man press conference held earlier today in Los Angeles.
"Ang told me, 'I need to you act less good,'" Smith said. He went on to explain how the film's effects team, Weta Digital, mined some of the actor's old performances, ranging from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Independence Day, which meant he "got to see all the tragedies I committed in entertainment."
"The biggest problem is Will is a much better actor today than he was 30 years ago," Lee said, elaborating that the key wasn't about portraying how Smith looked three decades ago but finding a way to accurately portray the real human character inside the digital effect. "People talk about technology but this is not [that]," Lee explained. "This is an artistic endeavor. Not a clone but a soulful human being."
"My way of directing had to change," the director continued. "[The actor] can't act; you have to feel emotion that will translate to the audience. He has to be real, complicated."
This isn't the first time Lee has invested a tremendous amount of effort in creating an all-digital character. After making The Hulk back in 2003, he detailed a similar approach to IGN, saying "you can talk to an actor and they feed you back with their performance. The Hulk, as an actor, doesn't talk back! So you have to identify him in a human context to keep him from just being a creature."
Nine years later, he echoed that sentiment to Collider about the digitally rendered 3D tiger in Life of Pi. "I think it should be used as a new artistic form, not as a gimmick, not to impress you but the existence of an environment that you view as a theatrical dramatic experience."
Gemini Man, which has spent 20 years in development hell, is finally hitting theaters this October, so we'll get to see how convincing Lee's unique approach is soon enough — not to mention Smith's regressive acting technique.