Original-Cin Q&A: Ang Lee talks Gemini Man, Will Smith and advice for his younger self

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee likes to push himself. So when the opportunity came to film the unique double-lead film Gemini Man, he was all in. 

The film stars Will Smith who plays two characters: a middle-aged government assassin named Henry Brogan, and his younger clone, Junior, who’s sent to kill his older self. 

In terms of technique, Gemini Man is Lee’s most ambitious film to date.

Read our review of Ang Lee’s Gemini Man

Smith took on both roles, and while stuntmen stood in for Junior during many of the action sequences, Smith contributed to the character through performance capture. Ultimately, Junior is a 100-per-cent computer-generated creation from the team at the storied effects house Weta Digital.

Director Ang Lee gets Will Smith’s good side on the set of Gemini Man.

Director Ang Lee gets Will Smith’s good side on the set of Gemini Man.

In addition, Lee chose to shoot with 3D cameras at 120 frames per second, a higher frame rate than traditional filmmaking with much sharper images. That presented a challenge for the effects teams, as the high-resolution cameras meant Smith couldn't get away with makeup to play his younger self.

Our Bonnie Laufer sat with director Ang Lee to discuss his fears in making the film, and why two Will Smiths are better than one. 

ORIGINAL-CIN: You have said that making Gemini Man was a complete leap of faith. Can you explain?

 ANG LEE: “I pretty much say that about every movie that I am about to do. (laughs)  

“This one was a huge leap of faith because it was experimental and it was also very expensive. It was like when I did Life of Pi. I went into unknown territory for that film and the studio put in a lot of money.  You, of course, want to be really safe. But in the end, you are taking a risk. By the time the film gets greenlit and signed off, I call that a leap of faith.”

OC: Probably more so for this film, which is truly your most ambitious and technically advanced. 

LEE: “Oh definitely, mainly because Junior (the younger version of Will Smith)  is a lead in the movie and not just a flashback character or a snippet. He is actually carrying the movie. So for anyone to trust me enough to get this done, I would say is a huge leap of faith.” 

OC:  I’m guessing you had to be pretty scared taking on a project of this magnitude.

LEE: “Yes, I was terrified. But it was also fascinating, so it weighed each other out.  When you are scared you want to be safe. It’s like when you ski. I’m new to skiing, but when you are scared, the instinct is to lean forward, otherwise you fall. 

“So I just look at it as leaning forward, I can’t go back. I have to push myself with everything that I do. And making Gemini Man was no different.  It was a real thrill ,and truthfully my adrenaline didn’t stop until I finished the movie.”

OC: Why was Will Smith your only choice to star? 

LEE: “Because, it’s Will Smith! No explanation needed. (Laughs).

“Really though, he cares about acting. He really wants to be a good actor, and he was really invested in this film and the process.  

“He’s a great movie star and although we love what he has done in the past, he was ready to dig deeper. He has a big heart, and it meant a lot to me to have him by my side. That’s why we like him because he is so giving and vulnerable, but is also such a good person and likes to make us feel good about ourselves.”

OC: What impressed you about his ambition and his commitment to the project? 

LEE: “Having one of the biggest movie stars come to your office and say, ‘I’m at your service, whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do it.’  

“We showed him what he would need to go through using this new media, including special makeup, and he chose not to use any makeup at all to portray his younger self. That immediately told me a lot about how devoted he was to the project. 

“The man put his heart and soul into it, and you can feel it. Fans have watched Smith on a screen for decades, so they know his face well. 

“Was it easy?  No, but I think that what we accomplished is amazing, and I am so proud. It looked like Will, and in the end  that person on the screen was real and alive to me. That was the hardest thing and the most important for me to get across to the audience. Will was very proud and excited too, and his commitment to the project was above and beyond.”

OC: So did he get double pay for this role? 

LEE: “Double?  He got triple.. Quadruple .. the young Will Smith was way more expensive than the real Will Smith!” (Laughs) 

OC:  You have given us so many amazing and groundbreaking films. But if you had the opportunity to revisit a younger Ang Lee, what would you say to him? 

LEE: “I would tell him that time is on his side and take it slower. (Laughs)  Definitely, slower pace, don’t rush!”