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Actor (And Football Dad) Will Smith On Playing The 'Concussion' Doctor

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Actor (And Football Dad) Will Smith On Playing The 'Concussion' Doctor

Movie Interviews

Actor (And Football Dad) Will Smith On Playing The 'Concussion' Doctor

Actor (And Football Dad) Will Smith On Playing The 'Concussion' Doctor

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/460717256/460784689" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Will Smith plays neuropathologist and Nigerian immigrant Bennet Omalu in Concussion. He says the role was exhilarating: "You know, Will Smith with a Nigerian accent could go really, really wrong." Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia Pictures

Will Smith plays neuropathologist and Nigerian immigrant Bennet Omalu in Concussion. He says the role was exhilarating: "You know, Will Smith with a Nigerian accent could go really, really wrong."

Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia Pictures

Actor Will Smith says at first he was conflicted about his latest movie, Concussion.

"I'm a football dad," he tells NPR's David Greene. "[I] grew up in Philly with my Eagles, and there was a part of me that did not want to be the guy who said playing football could cause brain damage."

That guy he didn't want to play is Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist and Nigerian immigrant at the center of Concussion. In 2002, Omalu performed an autopsy on Mike Webster, one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' most famous players. In the years before he died, Webster had struggled with mental illness and fallen into financial ruin. Omalu asked himself how an apparently healthy, favorite son of Pittsburgh could die in disgrace at 50. His question led to a discovery that rocked the NFL and medicine: a degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive blows to the head called CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.


Interview Highlights

On what made him decide to take the role of Omalu

This is probably the farthest role away from me that I've ever played, but it was exhilarating. You know, Will Smith with a Nigerian accent could go really, really wrong. ... But it was a high degree of difficulty, which for me was part of the pleasure of it.

On how he feels now about taking the role

I'm 47 years old and there's an experience as an actor when you actually get to put on someone's life — you're actually wearing another person for three or four or five months. So when you do that, you naturally take things away. And there's a deep commitment to service and truth that Dr. Omalu has, and I like how it felt to wear that.

On whether he would let his son back on the football field

I thank God that that's a hypothetical question. As a parent, I'm all about information. So once he had all of the information, as a family we would sit down and discuss it. And then I would just make his mother tell him no.

On how his grandmother influenced his early rap career

I was about 12 years old and I just started writing, you know, my raps. So I had my little rap book, that little black speckled composition book, you remember those. You know, of course, I was rapping so I had all of my four-letter words in there. And my grandmother found my rap book. She never said anything to me. She turned to the last page and she wrote:

Dear Will,

Truly intelligent people do not have to use these words to express themselves. Please show the world that you're as smart as we think you are. ...

I became the only rapper that didn't curse in his music.

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