Hollywood, CA – In the summer of 1996, Will Smith — already a proven Hip Hop star — became an internationally known one after the release of his film Independence Day.
The film is credited to have dawned the modern-day blockbuster, shattering box office records onwards to its way to the year’s highest grossest distinction as well an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
But The Fresh Prince’s charismatically militant performance as Marine Captain Steven Hiller was almost in jeopardy to never happening according to the film’s Director and producer combo Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin.
Speaking candidly with The Hollywood Reporter for a retrospective dive for the film’s 25th anniversary, Emmerich revealed 20th Century Fox decision-makers thought Will Smith’s skin tone wouldn’t resonate with audiences when time to shop-and-sell the project internationally.
“No, we don’t like Will Smith,” Roland Emmerich recalled the studio saying. “He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [markets].”
Dean Devlin remembered a racial component being a factor saying, “They said, ‘You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill foreign [box office].’
“Our argument was, ‘Well, the movie is about space aliens. It’s going to do fine foreign.’ It was a big war, and Roland really stood up for [Smith] — and we ultimately won that war.”
Emmerich ultimately issued an ultimatum: either move on with Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in the lead roles or they would move the film to Universal Studios.
Albeit, a couple decades and record book entries later, he can admit he was born with a poker face.
“I don’t think it would have been a possibility [to actually move studios], but it was a great threat,” he said.
Independence Day went on to earn $817 million worldwide — making Will Smith a permanent Hollywood A-lister and the aforementioned conversation moot at the same time.
However, a platinum opportunity was missed not having The Fresh Prince rap-out on the soundtrack. For his next alien-save-the-world-bender leading role — 1997’s Men In Black, Will Smith released the single of the same name which went on to spearhead the second wave of his Hip Hop career and snag a 1998 win for the Best Rap Solo Performance.