IAR INTERVIEW: Will Smith and Margot Robbie Talk 'Focus'

Friday, 27 February 2015 11:10 Written by  iamrogue
Rate this item
(3 votes)
IAR INTERVIEW: Will Smith and Margot Robbie Talk 'Focus'

Focus, hitting theaters nationwide today, is all about the con, but when the conmen are Will Smith and Margot Robbie, you'll actually feel happy about being swindled.

International megastar Smith (After Earth) stars in this comedy-drama-caper-thriller as Nicky, a charming longtime grifter who takes the beautiful and inexperienced Jess, played by Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), under his wing, teaching her the ways of the conman.  Until, that is, she gets too close and he promptly kicks rocks, leaving his onetime protege in the dust. 

Three years later, however, while Nicky's preparing for a huge and highly dangerous con in Buenos Aires, Jess reappears.  This time, the student may very well have become the master, as Nicky's onetime "intern" is now a formidable operator in her own right, a schemer who might just turn Nicky's most ambitious graft into a shamblefest that could cost them both a fortune.  or their very lives.

Focus makes perfect use of both Oscar-nominated stars' peerless charisma as each character uses their charm to sweep marks off their feet and conceal their true motives.  At the Los Angeles press day for Focus, however, Smith and Robbie appeared sincerely enthusiastic about their new movie.

IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was on hand to discuss Focus with the stars, who happily talked about their onscreen chemistry, how Robbie snagged the role, improvisation, Smith's new mindset, the love story beneath all the cons, and the philosophical implications of graft.

Interestingly, directorial duo John Requa and Glenn Ficara (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) cycled through a number of starring pairs before landing on this combination.  For some time, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were set to reunite as Nicky and Jess, after which Ben Affleck and Kristen Stewart were attached.  Finally, though, the filmmakers landed on Smith, whose energy with Robbie is the engine of Focus.

When Philbrick asked the stars about their chemistry, Smith replied, "Yeah, it was pretty instantaneous. We were in New York, and Margot had flown in from Croatia, so it was a pretty long flight and her luggage was lost. She only had the clothes in her backpack."

"Which were actually wet clothes," Robbie added. "I’d been swimming, right before getting the call. It was six in the morning and I’d been swimming when I got the call saying, 'You need to be doing an audition with Will Smith tomorrow in New York, so your flight’s booked for tonight.' And I was like, 'Tonight?! Oh, my god!' I asked the lady at the hostel I was staying at, 'How do I get off this island? I need to go to the mainland.' She was like, 'Oh, there’s only one boat a day, and it leaves in 20 minutes.' I was like, 'Oh, my god!,' and grabbed all my stuff. I probably left half of it in the hostel. I raced and got a catamaran, and then got a bus and got another bus, and got to the airport. I waited eight hours, and then I went to France. And then, I went to New York. By the time I got to New York, I’d not slept for well over two days. They had lost my luggage and my audition was about seven hours away.

"So, I walked into the audition in wet sneakers and denim shorts and a pajama shirt, which was the only dry thing I had before they lost my luggage. I was like, 'I cannot meet Will Smith in my pajama shirt.' So, I went to Top Shop and grabbed this top and then walked in. I looked horrendous."

"And Will was late. I’d come from Croatia, but Will was late," she said, laughing.

In the audition that followed, Robbie revealed, "I called him a dick," and Smith zeroed in on that improvisational beat as crucial.

"Yeah, she ad-libbed, which was fantastic," he said. "That was the actual moment. That’s when I knew. We were ad-libbing. I’ll go off the script, every once in a while, which is a big test. If you go off of the script, you’ll see what kind of person will go with you. So, in the middle of the audition, I went off script. And she ad-libbed back, 'Oh, you’re such a dick!' It was absolute complete fearlessness and complete comfort."

"You can’t create chemistry. You either have it or you don’t. And when she walked in, it was really palpable," said Smith.

Australian actress Robbie broke out in a huge way with her pitch-perfect performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, a thoroughly masculine film.  In Focus, she's once again a rare woman in a cast of male actors, but she said, "I had a great time. I seem to keep doing films that are like a boy’s club, and I’m the only girl. But, it was fun rolling with these guys. They’ve been really great. It’s like I inherited a bunch of older brothers. They all took me under their wing and were really wonderful. I had a great time."

For Smith, meanwhile, Focus marked a change in perspective following a rare commercial misstep in the summer of 2013.

"For me, this film really marks a transition in my life, emotionally and in my career. After the failure of After Earth, a thing got broken in my mind. I was like, 'Oh, wow, I’m still alive. Actually, I still am me, even though the movie didn’t open at number one. Wait, I can still get hired on another movie.' In my mind, my entire, Mr. July, Big Willie Weekend, number one for eight in a row all collapsed, and I realized that I still was a good person," he said.

"So, when I went into Focus, I completely released the concept of goal orientation and got into path orientation, with this moment, this second, these people, this interaction. It is a huge relief for me to not care whether or not Focus is number one or number ten at the box office," the actor continued. "I’ve already gained everything that I could possibly have hoped for, from meeting the people that I met and from the creation of what we did together."

Beneath all the fireworks, thrills, and manipulation that you expect from a conman movie, Focus has a squishy center.  Or at least Robbie thinks so.

"Absolutely! John and Glenn always said, from the beginning, that at the core of it, it was a love story, and what they do best is tell love stories" she said. "I think it’s pretty amazing that we didn’t lose that, with all the heists and things that were happening around it. That was the most important part of the story."

According to Smith, to call it a conman movie is to judge it only by its surface, not the implications of conning. "We say the word con, but it’s so far beyond a con. It is a deep and powerful perception of how the human mind works," he explained about the art of the con. "It’s human behavior. Those ideas are just so intriguing and exciting. And as an actor, you’re playing one scene, but then there’s another scene, that’s the real scene, that’s actually going on. And beneath that, the audience is getting played, at the same time."

"I think it really does go hand-in-hand with acting, sometimes," said Robbie. "There’s a lot of that emotional manipulation, and that’s precisely what we do to try to evoke an emotion out of the audience members and make them emotionally invest in something. That just raises the stakes and people care so much more, all of a sudden.

"Part of what was exciting for me about taking on this role is how everybody is running a con," Smith concluded. "We choose our clothes. We do our hair. Everyone wants to be perceived a certain way, to gain the things that they have decided are the things that they want in their life. And at the center of this film, there’s the idea that lying and loving don’t go together. Until we are willing to actually show that we have warts and show that we’re scared, and until we’re willing to let it all go and be authentic, you actually can’t have the very thing that you’re doing it for, which is the love and connection with other human beings. So, for me, that’s what was so exciting. Everything is a con."

Will Smith and Margot Robbie are reuniting for Warner Bros.' DC Comics supervillain team-up Suicide Squad, in which Smith plays Deadshot and Robbie plays Harley Quinn.  That comic book movie is due in theaters on August 5, 2016.

Focus is now playing at a theater near you.

Check out IAR's exclusive video interviews with Focus supporting player Gerald McRaney and deception consultant/actor Apollo Robbins.

More in this category

Follow ROGUE

Latest Trailers

view more »