Oscar-nominated Will Smith has moved successfully and smoothly from rapper to TV blockbuster movies. But he admits that he's yet to earn many good reviews. Steve Pratt goes into the future as the black actor finally looks like earning some acting acclaim for I, Robot.

WILL Smith is a happy man and not just because his new movie I, Robot has opened in the No 1 spot in the US cinema charts. "I've had big box office in the past with not-so-great movies and that doesn't feel nice," says the rapper turned blockbuster actor.

"But to be confident in the film and the powerful, intellectual base that Isaac Asimov set forth with the short stories and the great visionary future that director Alex Proyas put together, plus some of the greatest special effects you've ever seen - and me naked - I think the film just has a lot to offer."

Ah yes, the shower scene in which a buffed-up Smith appears nude. How was it filming it?. "We brought people in, we had a studio audience," jokes Smith, adding on a serious note: "You want as few people there as possible."

Smith, one of Hollywood's most consistently successful stars with hits such as Independence Day, Bad Boys and Men In Black to his credit, likes to take charge of his press interviews. In others, it would seem like being a show-off. With Smith, it just makes him more likeable.

He's learnt to take the rough with the smooth. His blockbuster movies have done well commercially, but not necessarily earned good reviews. "Every time you create and put something out in the world, you have to expect that some things are gonna be great, some things are gonna be not so great," he says.

"Probably Bad Boys II is the most pain I've ever experienced in my career, because I feel like the better movie was inside the one that we had. There were things that were gratuitous. The reverse for me is a film like Wild Wild West where we missed.

"Bad Boys is more painful because I feel I have a relationship with the audience where I will strive for quality. That's sort of what I have with my fans. I don't make movies for money. I make them as something I would like to see and something I want the audience to be able to see. The quality letdown is more painful than the box office letdown."

He's honest enough to point out that he can't remember ever getting a good review for one of his summer blockbusters. What he hopes is that more serious, more important films such as Ali, in which his performance as the legendary boxer won him an Oscar nomination, and Six Degrees Of Separation, receive better notices.

Unlike most music stars who try acting, Smith has done well moving from recording to TV's Fresh Prince Of Bel Air and on to the big screen. His explanation is that he was never so much a singer as an actor who was rapping.

"The music I made was always very theatrical and the videos were noted by Quincy Jones, who essentially said to me, 'You're already doing it. I need you to meet some people for The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air'," he recalls.

"Television was a really good training ground to work fast, and having the opportunity to move into films was really a gradual process. I'd never had to do anything for money.

That's what gave me the opportunity to make the right choices. When people start offering you money, that's what throws a lot of people off. You find yourself in situations that may not be right because you need to get paid."

The sci-fi thriller I, Robot has not only taken $50m-plus in its first weekend, but is also getting good reviews for the tale of a futuristic cop investigating a murder he thinks a robot committed. He fears there may be worse to come as a new breed of robots start rebelling against their masters. Smith doesn't blame the machines, feeling they're only doing what they're programmed to do. The fault or weakness is with man's arrogance in thinking they can confine the universe to laws.

"The only thing that's going to happen in this harsh adherence to logic and rejecting our intuition is to leave us in the situation we see in I, Robot," he says. "It's more an indictment of human logic than of technology."

Although the film is set in 2035, he thinks that some of technology on show - including electro-magnetic cars - may be much closer to being realised. He points out that cameras have been developed that can detect someone is stealing through their body language. "Now is that just a cool camera or is that artificial intelligence?," he asks. "

"At some point, the camera is going to be a better judge of who's stealing than a person. The technology is there, it's just a matter of pooling it into one piece of hardware."

He doesn't anticipate actors being replaced by robots. Exactly the opposite happens in the film - an actor performed the movements and emotions as Sonny the robot and was then replaced with a computer-generated robot on screen. "The performance of Sonny is Alan Tudyk's - the body language, the eyes, the facial motions, the voice, everything is his performance," he says.

"You are watching the choices of an actor that were adapted by the special effects people. People go to the movies to see and feel humanity. At this point, you can't computer-generate humanity."

He'd certainly allow a robot into his house to do household chores, although thinks the perfect use of a such a machine would be as a golf caddy. "I play a lot of golf but I'm really just not good. If you had a robot that could tell you the exact distance to the hole and what the wind was doing, I'd probably still be bad, but I'd have a robot."

* I, Robot (12A) opens in cinemas today.

Published: 05/08/2004