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Will Smith Explains Why Emancipation Was So Psychologically Difficult To Shoot

Will Smith's latest film "Emancipation" may not have taken off with critics — it's only nabbed 45% on Rotten Tomatoes — but the movie undeniably wouldn't work as well without Smith's committed performance. In the film, which earned a limited release earlier this month before debuting on Apple TV+, Smith portrays Peter, a slave who escapes from his plantation in the 1860s in a quest to head north. Based on the story of a real 19th-century slave named Gordon, the film also stars Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa. Helmed by Antoine Fuqua, who also directed "Southpaw" and "Training Day," it's a coherent, even if not award-worthy, piece of entertainment.

But now Smith has revealed that he immersed himself in the role of Peter even further than viewers had imagined. In a recent interview, Smith highlighted the emotional cost of his "Emancipation" shoot and suggested that he even took a method-like approach to his portrayal of Peter.

Will Smith says he went too far with his character

In the timeless vein of actors describing the emotional depths they plunged to find a character (see: Natalie Portman in "Black Swan" or Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"), Will Smith recently joined his children Willow, Jaden, and Trey on Red Table Talk to reveal his own dark place that he went to while filming "Emancipation." Noting the shackles and chains that he had to wear as Peter, Smith explained that the experience had actually given him nightmares.

"When you go that one click too far, Will Smith disappears, and then what happens is, psychologically, you go farther and farther into Peter, and you don't realize that 'you' are slipping away, and then it's over," he said. Smith also confessed that he had a similar experience during the filming of 1993's "Six Degrees of Separation," claiming it was "the only other time in my career where I got lost, where I went too far with a character."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Smith's taxing "Emancipation" shoot took place just before the Oscars and the Slap heard around the world. The film's director, Antoine Fuqua, even said as much, while expressing hope that people would forgive Smith for not being in top form at the ceremony (via Vanity Fair). That said, only time will tell if Smith's ongoing press tour for "Emancipation" will be enough to repair his image among Oscar voters.