In Collateral Beauty, Will Smith stars as Howard, an executive so grief-stricken over the death of his six-year-old daughter that he disconnects from life. He barely notices or cares that his advertising firm is going down the tubes, while his friends and colleagues (Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Edward Norton) stage an intervention to help Howard reconnect and to protect their interests in the company they co-founded.
Directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) and written by Allan Loeb, the drama also features Helen Mirren, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore and Keira Knightly.
The film’s stars (except for Knightly and Winslet), director and screenwriter turned up at a press conference Friday afternoon at the Crosby Street Hotel to talk about the emotional film with a small group of journalists.
Most of the questions were directed to Will Smith, whose easy-going charm and charisma was on display. Meanwhile Norton got in some wisecracks and Dame Helen’s dry wit kept the discussion lively, even though the topic was mainly Death and Loss.
The first question, directed to Smith, was whether the film would change how he deals with – you guessed it – death and loss.
“I was going to avoid that, and I was going to let someone else answer that, so I don’t bring the brothers down,” Smith said, explaining that while he made the film his father was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was only six weeks.
“I was in Howard’s mind studying and reading all of the different religious basis for being able to find an answer for how we recover from this kind of loss. I was sharing with my father through the experience, everything from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross,” Smith noted. “Everything that you’d possibly do to deal with the inevitable pain of death, I was able to do it as Howard, but also be able to share and work on that with my father, so the idea of that loss and that type of pain, this movie and this film and these ideas, have changed me forever,”
The main device in the movie is that in Howard’s grief he seeks solace by writing and mailing letters to the abstractions Time (Latimore), Death (Mirren) and Love (Knightly). Although Howard doesn’t realize it, they’re actually actors his colleagues hired to try to jolt him back to life.
Death, Howard says in surprise, “is an elderly white woman.”
Asked which of the three elements – death, time or love – would be most painful during loss, Mirren replied, “I would say time probably because I think if you’re in a very dark place time I’m sure Time can become a very painful thing.”
Smith disagreed. “Nothing tortures me more than love. There’s nothing in life that I experience more pain around than love. Even in dealing with my father’s passing, what it comes back to me and how I react to that is, ‘Jada, you’re not loving me enough.’ Everything is about that. Listen if we gonna die, we need to spend more time together. The craving for loving for me is far beyond the loss of death and far beyond the punishment of time.”
Norton – who was quiet up until now – said dryly, “This is why Will and I connect, because I often think, ‘Jada, you’re not loving me enough.’”
A journalist called Collateral Beauty 2016’s “Love Actually” and then segued into a question to Smith about whether he was going to return to music.
“ I always record, so I probably have 60 records that I recorded but it’s about just finding that thing that really feels like it’s going to deliver the truth of what I want to say,” said Smith. “I haven’t hit that record. I’ve been in the studio with everybody. I’m just looking for finding that way back in.”
All the actors were asked to recount their most life-changing moments?
Will Smith turned to Norton and told him to go first.
“It’s been with Jada,” Norton cracked.
“I set myself up,” Smith laughed, adding, “I’ve had huge life-changing moments, almost all centered around love. I am a serious hopeless romantic. I think the greatest experience of love I’ve ever had was when my daughter was born. I took Willow and I sat her down with Jada and just looking at the two of them that was as full as I ever have been. Like that is the maximum amount of love I’ve ever felt or experienced in my life. It was the safest and purest and happiest that I’ve ever been in my life and I think subconsciously I chase that every day of my life. I chase that feeling and that experience.”
Of his most life-changing moment, Norton offered up, “I think when I saw Helen Mirren in “Excalibur.”
“That changed us all,” agreed Smith.
“I’m glad you didn’t say “Caligula (1979),” Mirren said softly.
“No, ‘Excalibur was like high class,” Norton replied.
After 30 minutes the press conference sadly came to an end, as journalists were told to stay seated while the actors got up to leave.
“It’s like the President now. It’s like everybody got to stay still while the Secret Service gets the President out of the room,” Smith laughed, shaking the hands of journalists on his way out the door.
Collateral Beauty opens nationwide December 16.