Will Smith is getting deeply candid in his new docuseries. The first two episodes of the actor's YouTube Originals series, Best Shape of My Life, aired on Monday and showed Will in a more vulnerable light than fans have seen him before.
The six-episode show follows Will on a journey kicked off after the King Richard actor took to Instagram in May to reveal that he was in "the worst shape of my life," along with a snapshot showing off his physique. Back then, the actor told fans that although "this is the body that carried me through an entire pandemic," he intended to get in the "best shape of my life" and was teaming up with YouTube to document his desire to get his health and wellness back on track.
In the first episodes of the series, viewers learn that Will's journey didn't start as positively as it seemed.
Will sets two goals: lose 20 pounds and finish writing his memoir, Will, in 20 weeks. The actor explains to viewers that he initially gained weight to play Venus and Serena Williams' father, Richard, in the upcoming film King Richard, which was filmed before COVID hit. "I put on weight to thicken up. Then COVID-19 hit. COVID made the weight more than the role called for," he recalls as a sizzle reel of Will eating junk food plays.
The actor says he intends to "keep it real" and admits that the weight gain made him feel "embarrassed." He found himself eating more as he attempted to finish his memoir, but the more time Will had, the harder he found it to write.
"I had serious writer's block and I was not feeling great mentally or physically," he says. "So this is a clear slate. I embrace adversity as opportunity. I know it is within my power to take anything and make it be the best thing that ever happened."
He tells viewers that his decision to film his process is to have cameras serve as a pseudo accountability partner.
"For me, I am a performer. So the cameras act like my sponsor and keep me accountable," he explains. "I know the world is gonna see it, it's like the greatest peer pressure there is. I am not gonna fail if it is on camera."
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist working with Will for a year, explains that she believes having the cameras document him is a double-edged sword for the actor. They allow him to perform and be funny and deflect from his embarrassment, which she explains he does often. "Will is constantly cracking jokes and making people laugh to cover for his embarrassment. He is getting his blood taken and he pretends to faint and the nurses freak out," she says, noting that he uses humor as a tool to hide what he is really feeling.
"The funnier the person, the more the pain sometimes," she adds. "Eventually the pressure becomes too much."
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Will echoes Dr. Durvasula's sentiments as he reads excerpts of his memoir to family and friends during his book camps set throughout the episodes. He explains that "most" of his childhood was spent in fear, and he realized, "how we decide to confront our fears is the person we become."
"I decided to be funny. It's this compulsive desire to constantly please others, keep them laughing and smiling at all times," he explains. "To redirect the attention away from the ugly and uncomfortable towards the joyful and beautiful. It is there a true entertainer is born."
But sometimes it's hard for Will to dredge up a laugh or a smile, which is shown as his personal trainer, Aaron Ferguson, laments the actor's struggles with being consistent when working out. The two have worked together for over nine years, but this is a different experience for both men.
"I have never seen him like this and he has never been in this bad of shape ever," Aaron tells viewers as he describes the regimen set up for Will's goals. "Our goal is to lose around a pound a week with a new diet and exercise program. The basic framework is we will do two days of resistance training and take off, then go back on two days. Will is a big fan of doing cardio in the morning. We will do runs every morning. Then resistance training later in the day."
The biggest challenge is Will's energy management, according to his personal trainer.
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That proves true as Will battles with unhappiness at a perceived failure when he weighs in at 222 pounds during the first weigh-in, a pound heavier than when he began his journey in week one. He explains that his innate desire to succeed stems from his relationship with his father, whom he says "demanded rigid perfection for himself and the people around him."
"I grew up with the double-edged gift of discipline. It was military motivation in my house. You get that flag to the top of that hill," he recalls. "His other favorite thing was when I send you on a mission there are two possibilities: One, you complete the mission or two, you are dead."
It is here that Will reveals how hard he works to keep the perception of who he is in place — the actor confesses that when initially approached about doing the docuseries, Aaron wanted him to weigh in a week before the cameras eventually showed up, but he refused. He explains that he weighed 226 pounds then and spent a week before Jan. 1 fasting to shed five pounds before filming began.
"I didn't want to be on camera at almost 230 pounds. That was the heaviest I had ever weighed," Will says, admitting that Aaron doesn't approve of fasting and didn't know about what Will was doing until the actor told him later.
Dr. Durvasula explains that Will derives a sense of self from always succeeding and being well-liked. "The need to be loved and win — for Will this is his drug. With any addiction it can get out of control," she says.
"For Will, goals are everything. This came from a childhood of 'I have to work, succeed,' and now, 'lose this much weight,'" she adds. "He has to win completely to stay safe and in control."
At his second weigh-in, Will is down 1.4 pounds, which Aaron notes is where they want to be every week. Although the actor treats the weigh-ins in his typical light-hearted way, it's clear that deep down, the number on the scale means everything. Looking into a mirror, Will tells his reflection that although he has "never looked this bad," he will "fix" it.
"I learned how to discipline my mind at a really young age," the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star tells viewers. "When there was a flag to get to the top of the hill, I never struggled too much with doing whatever needed to be done to complete my mission."
During his third weigh-in, Will comes in at 218.4 pounds, a little over two pounds lost over the last week. "I will take that, that is what I was [expecting]," he admits. "I got carb depleted the other day and fell out of a workout. It's like a lesson, trying to figure out what to eat and when to burn the maximum fat and build the maximum muscle but still have energy."
In celebration, Will decides to run up 160 floors of the tallest skyscraper in Dubai. When he reaches the top floor and realizes that it isn't the "true" top of the skyscraper, he admits that he feels a sense of failure rather than the accomplishment he initially felt. So he decides to climb up inside the spire of the building and truly reach the highest point a person can climb.
"For my entire career, I have been committed to a work ethic of uncompromising intensity. You show up and you lay another brick. Pissed off, lay another brick. Bad opening weekend, lay another brick. Album sales dropping, lay another brick. Marriage failing, lay another brick," Will says, narrating his climb. "Nearly a year after my brother and I started the wall, we mixed the final pile and laid the final brick. Daddio threw his cigarette on the ground and said, 'Don't tell me there's something you can't do.'"
"My father gave me my name, he gave me his name, and he gave me my greatest advantage in life," he adds. "The ability to persist in the face of anything. He gave me will."
See the first two episodes of Best Shape of My Life for free on Will's YouTube Channel. New episodes will be released daily through Friday, Nov. 12.
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