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Hollywood actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, who play a pair of endearing cops in the beloved action-comedy ‘Bad Boys’ installments, are a proverbial hoot on and off-screen. They joke about how Martin isn't a morning person and how Smith loves to rehearse his lines till the cows come home.

In a recent roundtable interview with Gulf News ahead of their world premiere of their fourth installment ‘Bad Boys: Ride Or Die’ in Dubai, Smith and Lawrence set the ball rolling by declaring loudly that they love doing “print roundtable interviews”. 

Why wouldn’t they love doing interviews? Apart from needling Smith about his notorious 2022 Oscar slap gate ignominy in which he slapped Chris Rock in the face on stage at the awards ceremony when the comic made a joke about his actor’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith, everything else, and by that we mean about the movie and their careers, were up for the asking. Anything sticky or mildly controversial wasn't encouraged.

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Actor Will Smith at the red carpet premiere of 'Bad Boys: Ride or Die' held at the Coca-Cola Arena on May 22

In the feel-good Bad Boys blockbusters, 55-year-old Smith and 59-year-old Lawrence have re-united as detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett to obliterate a crime syndicate. Packed with intense action, hilarious banter, and some seriousl cool car chases and explosions, Smith and Lawrence became an iconic pair through this blockbuster franchise.

Excerpts from our conversation with this dynamic duo as they look back on their careers, the long-enduring appeal of Bad Boys franchise, and why being funny in the times of woke and cancel culture is challenging …

It’s been 30 years since the ‘Bad Guys’ franchise kicked off … How has your growing relationship impacted your relationship with the characters on screen?

Will Smith: You know what’s funny. We were kids in our 20s when we made the first one. Couple of months ago, at the wrap part of ‘Do Or Die’ and we were watching the first movie together. It felt surreal watching ourselves. Neither of us had any muscles … There was not one good muscle between us, but we were living our dreams. We didn’t even realize it at that time that we were in the middle of our wildest dreams. So this time around, Martin made it a point on this one to really focus on slowing down and making sure we enjoy each other and enjoy the making of this film. It was important for us to capture that friendship because that’s the concept of ‘Ride Or Die’ – the friendship, the camaraderie, and the partnership. We wanted to focus on that and enjoy that.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence re-unite for the fourth instalment of 'Bad Boys: Ride or Die', out in UAE cinemas on June 6

Did you expect ‘Bad Boys’ which premiered in 1995 to become this hugely successful comedy franchise?

Will Smith: We didn’t think we were even going to finish the first part … So when we got to make the second film, it felt like such a gift to get such a kind of opportunity. We weren’t even thinking of sequels back then. Sequels were never a major concept back in 1995. Now, we have the Fast And Furious with their 10th or 13th movies under them. Back then, it was a new thing and wasn’t even a consideration. Back then, people weren’t making five or six movies …

Martin Lawrence: For the first instalment we were working with the mad scientist of a director, Michael Bay. We had no idea what it would turn out to be.

Will Smith Bad Boys: Ride or Die
Adil El Arbi, Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and Bilall Fallah during their visit to Dubai to promote their film 'Bad Boys: Ride or Die'

We live in a world which is now increasingly becoming woke and where cancel culture for an offensive joke is a given … How difficult is it to make a comedy in such a climate? Where do you draw the line?

Will Smith: Funny is the elixir, right. So as long as it’s funny, we can get away with most things. Trouble begins when a joke is just ‘kinda funny’ and that’s when you get caught. If it’s hilarious, people will give it you. We made sure that our jokes fell into that bracket … The world is difficult right now, in general. So we wanted to make sure that this movie was a pure comedy that people could escape, have fun, and feel good. We pushed the envelope, but not too much.

Is another installment on the cards after ‘Ride or Die’ …

Will Smith: It’s such a new world out there now … We have been around for 30 years and it’s now a movie that both parents and children – different generations – want to go and watch together. So, trust me when I say we will ride this wheels until it falls off.

Martin Lawrence: That’s all up to the fans. If the fans keep wanting one more, we will up for it.

What has been the most memorable bit in this journey spanning thirty years and four films?

Will Smith: There’s a sort of parallel growth between ourselves and the characters … When you are 25, you don’t realize that you get to witness someone’s growth and expansion. But today, when you have known someone like Martin for 30 years, it feels incredible. Part of the fun with the ‘Bad Boys’ franchise is witnessing each other’s lives evolve. Like our character in the film, it’s a privilege to witness Martin’s expansion, their growth, and their ups and downs. It’s been beautiful.

Martin Lawrence: Just working with this guy and just to see his growth and how far he has come has been such a pleasure for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

Have you ever considered converting ‘Bad Boys’ into a TV or web series?

Will Smith: Bad Boys is for the theaters because there’s something about the big screens. During COVID, I realize that there was a rise in the streamers but Bad Boys is all about the collective experience of watching it in a theater. Dalai Lama had a quote when he was asked about what Nirvana means. He said, the closest thing that could describe it was when a group of people get a joke at the same time and that collective experience – that burst of joy in a singular moment. So to me, there’s nothing like being in a theater for that big moment, that big movie, and that big laugh, and that big jolt. And that collective unity that happens in the theater to me, you can't just beat it at home.

How important are reviews for a movie like ‘Bad Boys’ and for you as actors?

Will Smith: This kind of a movie is a fan movie and it’s a little bit review-proof. Our third film from the ‘Bad Boy’ series was the best-reviewed and you can just see how it helped globally. It made the most money and was successful in most markets. We got some best reviews out of it. But generally throughout my career, I have made movies that are always reviewed well. While such films generally tend to be review-proof, it feels good when people like it across the board. So, let’s see what happens with this one.

Martin Lawrence: Reviews are important and help get people in the seats. About the bad reviews, just forget them.

Will, in an earlier interview you said you weren’t comfortable with cussing and using foul words. But in this movie, there are quite a few. Has that changed?

Will Smith: Now, I curse very comfortably [laughs] … I am very, very comfortable now. When I was younger and making rap music, my grandmother – who was deep in the church – found my rap book. She never said anything when she saw all my curses in that book, but she wrote in my rap book: ‘Dear Will, truly intelligent people do not have to use words like these to express themselves. Please show the world that you are as smart as we think you are. Love, Gigi.’ Since that moment, I never put any curses in my rap music, but I am grown now. A little bit of curses here and there never hurt anybody.

In this file photo taken on March 27, 2022 US actor Will Smith accepts the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for
Will Smith accepts the Best Oscar trophy in March 2022

You both are one of the most well-preserved actors in your 50s, but you have embraced ageing in this movie. Your character, Martin, even has a cardiac arrest …

Will Smith: It’s important to age appropriately if we are going keep a series alive. We always agreed that we would do one more installment as a victory lap. There has to be a reason why it should live in real space … We always wanted to make the next chapter for this film because we wanted to advance the characters, their relationships, and the story convincingly. And that’s the reason why there’s a huge gap between the two and the third installments … Also when we begin filming for ‘Bad Boys’, we knew that we had to get into shape. Once you are doing this series, you will have to put that doughnut and that soda down.

Martin Lawrence: Yes, you go to put them all down and get into Bad Boy shape. As you get older, it’s getting a little bit harder and that’s one of the reasons for the characters to be age-appropriate. We played with some of the things that were actually happening with our bodies into the film. We wanted it to be real and fun.

Don’t Miss It!

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ is out in UAE cinemas on June 6

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Actor Will Smith in Dubai for the premiere of 'Bad Boys: Ride or Die'