LOS ANGELES, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- In Gemini Man, 51-year-old Will Smith portrays his 23-year-old self, exploring his own battle within.
"I loved the philosophical idea that we all plant the seeds of our own destruction," Smith said at a recent press conference for the movie, which opens in theaters Friday. "We are our own worst enemy. We make choices and we make decisions in our lives that set things in motion that we can't blame other people for."
In the movie, Henry (Smith) is a 51-year-old assassin who announces his retirement from the fictional Defense Intelligence Agency. When he is pursued by another assassin, he is shocked to see his own face staring back at him. Junior (Smith) is Henry's clone, now age 23. Henry's past literally has come to destroy him.
"I just thought it was a really clever and creative way to say that we are the architects of our ultimate rise or fall," Smith said. "It's a big part of why I love science fiction because you can put those things under really wild visual landscapes."
Ang Lee, who directed Gemini Man, saw the technical challenge as the next step after he directed Life of Pi, in which visual effects artists created a realistic tiger for his film. A realistic human would be even more difficult.
"I experienced the tiger in Life of Pi," Lee said. "I know with a human face, you're playing with fire. It's pretty scary but at the same time it's pretty exciting. So I signed on."
Lee and Smith agreed that the philosophical element was just as exciting as the technology. Lee related to Smith's philosophical idea about planting the seeds of one's own destruction.
"As soon as I hear a clone, a younger version, I just knew I'm old enough to deal with this stuff," Lee said. "If we put all this philosophical stuff in there, what kind of fun are we going to have?"
Computers could make Smith look like he was 23 again, but the actor still had to find a way to act as his 23-year-old self.
"You can't fake innocence," Smith said. "As a young actor, it's easier to play older, but [when you're] older, it's difficult to impossible to play younger. Once you know some stuff, it's in your eyes. It's in your cells."
Clay Varris (Clive Owen) created Junior and raised him to be the perfect specimen. That means Junior missed out on some of the normal teenage life experiences. Just playing a virgin was challenging to Smith.
"To try to have eyes that unknow sex, once you've had sex, you walk different," Smith said. "It's in your back. So their job in creating a digital human was to be able to sell that innocence and that youth."
When Smith was 23, he starred on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He had his first dramatic role in Six Degrees of Separation in 1993 when he was 25. Junior not only looks like Smith did in the early '90s, but he acts like Smith did then too.
Smith said Lee picked out scenes from Smith's work in Fresh Prince, Six Degrees, Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black. Based on those, Smith crafted his Junior performance.
"We found these really honest moments in some of my early work," Smith said
Cloning makes a young version of Henry possible. Visual effects make a young version of Smith possible. Gemini Man then asks the audience what makes Henry and Junior such different people.
"One of the major discussions that we were having [was] in terms of nature versus nurture," Smith said. "If you're genetically identical, how much does your life experience affect the things that you say and do and feel?"
Junior grew up under Clay's guidance, and backstory reveals Henry escaped a difficult childhood.
"We were trying to draw as big a difference as possible as we could between the characters," Smith said. "Henry, who grew up in a brutal household, he had a tougher upbringing, while Junior had the perfect upbringing with Clive's character."
Smith said he saw Gemini Man as a way to explore the nature vs. nurture debate. Junior has Henry's DNA but a different father figure. Yet both went into the business of killing.
"In drawing those distinctions, it was interesting that it still came down to two men who had taken these gifts that they had and still turned them into [similar] things," Smith said. "[Their killings] were still going to create nightmares and were going to create a horrible end to this experience."
Gemini Man prompted Smith to look back at his 23-year-old self, and he realized his younger self had some admirable qualities that gradually faded away.
"My younger self was wildly and insanely aggressive," Smith said. "At 23 years old, I was naive and ambitious and aggressive. There's a power to naivety. There's a power that I'm actually trying to get back in my life right now."
Smith prefers to keep the Henry/Junior debates hypothetical. He sees human cloning on the horizon and worries about its consequences.
"We reach for poisoned honey a lot in order to overcome our pain and suffering," Smith said. "My opinion is that cloning will ultimately pan out to be poisoned honey. It will be a reach that will potentially come back and bite humanity in a way that we're probably not considering fully."
As for the groundbreaking technology, Lee hopes viewers don't ask how the studio made Will Smith young. He hopes viewers just believe Junior is a unique character.
"The biggest praise we have is nobody thinks about that," Lee said. "They just watch the movie and watch the story."