‘Bright’ star Will Smith says sci-fi lets movies tackle tough issues

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Will Smith plays a cop teamed with an Orc (Joel Edgerton) in “Bright.” | NETFLIX

LOS ANGELES — “Just money. Lots of money.”

So goes Will Smith’s tongue-in-cheek summation of why he took on the big-budget Netflix release “Bright,” which premiered Friday on the streaming service.

The seasoned film cop and science fiction star does it all over again, playing a police officer with racist feelings against his otherworldly partner who happens to be an Orc in a land also occupied by Elves, Fairies and at least one Centaur.

Smith’s Officer Ward has just returned to the job after being shot and is assigned to reunite with the rookie Nick Jakoby, the first Orc to serve with the LAPD. Jakoby is played by Joel Edgerton.

Edgerton and Smith agreed that the issue of racism grew more and more important as filming went on.

“Not because the topic suddenly became a more kind of evolved or new topic,” Edgerton said. “It just so happened that there are a lot of really bad things happening that were newsworthy. And when things become newsworthy, unfortunately the subject of how we treat each other and the policies on a bigger scale that are in place in order to allow people to feel OK about treating other people badly became more and more a sort of magnified thing, I think, as we were making it.”

Smith considers science fiction “emotionally distant and safe for the audience, so you get to talk about things and say and do things that you really couldn’t if you were trying to hit the subject on the head.”

That’s exactly what his character does, he said, going “straight down the middle on the insanity of these racist concepts, but it doesn’t feel like that because of the nature of the world.”

Smith has been in the business for 30 years and said his expectations are quite different now with every job.

“The release of a film used to be everything and my entire career and everything was on the line, every time I put something out. And now I’m looking at [how] my life is my art, more than one film or one piece of entertainment,” Smith said. “It’s just kind of a brush stroke. So I’m just looking to make something that if one person finds some joy or some assistance with moving forward in their life. then that’s successful for me.”

“But it would be better,” Edgerton added, “if there were like 200 million.”

NICOLE EVATT, Associated Press

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