The Man Whose Story Inspired 'The Pursuit of Happyness' Initially Did Not Want Will Smith to Play Him in the Movie

Will Smith is one of the most popular Hollywood actors around. Smith has starred in a number of box office hits, and as such, it can seem surprising that someone would not want such a big-name actor to be in his movie. However, that was what happened when Smith was cast in the 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness. The man whose story inspired the film initially did not want Smith to play him. Find out why below.

What is ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ about?

The Pursuit of Happyness is a rags-to-riches story about a salesman who got evicted from his home and had spent some time homeless with his young son. He tried to make ends meet and continued working hard at his job, which eventually helped him overcome his financial difficulties.

The movie is based on the life of Chris Gardner, who shared his story about being homeless on 20/20 in 2002. The interview was widely watched and received positive response, which led Gardner to publish his book, The Pursuit of Happyness, in May 2006. He was signed on to become an executive producer of the movie with the same name soon after.

Chris Gardner initially did not want Will Smith to portray him in the movie

Smith was cast in the film as Gardner while Smith’s son, Jaden, played Gardner’s son. However, Gardner was initially against Smith playing him.

“I wasn’t overwhelmed, honestly. I always thought of Will as the blockbuster, sci-fi movie star,” Gardner said, as reported by Contact Music.

Gardner eventually came around to accept Smith in the role because of his daughter, sharing, “My daughter said, ‘If he can play Muhammad Ali, he can play you!’” Gardner was referring to Smith’s role in the 2001 film Ali, which won countless awards. It was also nominated for two Oscars.

Will Smith worked hard to learn about Gardner’s story

Since Smith had a responsibility to share Gardner’s story with the world, he worked closely with Gardner to understand his struggle.

“I connected with Chris Gardner,” Smith said, according to Live About. “We looked in one another’s eyes. I said, ‘I’m going to learn your story and I’m going to tell your story.’ And he said, ‘Just tell the truth.’ I went and found the truth.”

Additionally, Gardner was around to help Smith on the set of the movie. Smith recalled that Gardner was attentive and made sure Smith could truly grasp each scene.

“He was extremely helpful all through the process,” Smith said. “We would do takes. If something’s not feeling right, I would go away with Chris for an hour, just have him talk me through it. Try to get me mentally into the space of the moment, what he connected to.”

Smith even compared Gardner to the former South African president Nelson Mandela. Smith shared, “He’s a lot like I felt like when I met Nelson Mandela. To have survived the things that he’s survived and still have a big belly laugh. There’s always going to be the scar tissue of traumatic experiences, but he’s so peaceful walking through it. It was an extremely valuable resource to have him there and have him walking me through the scenes and taking me through San Francisco and Oakland.”

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