The actor, 46, talked to The Mid contributor Jeanne Wolf about his insecurities, unstoppable optimism, and a few of his bad habits.
There’s plenty of suspense and action in Focus, but you and Margot make time for some romance.
Every movie is a love story. My theory is that there is no other kind of movie. Even films like Bad Boys are “bromance”—we ride together, we die together, bad boys for life. Everything is about human relationships.
Being a part of Hollywood must make you no stranger to con men.
Are you kidding? I’m an actor. Everybody is running a con. There are certain things that people want and they’re going to do the things they need to do to get them. All right? They’re gonna wear the clothes and say things they need to say. Everybody is trying to get what they want. At the heart of human interaction is a daily con.
After all the movies you’ve made, does it get easier?
Ninety percent of the time I’m uncomfortable and uncertain when I’m making a movie. I don’t want people to know how difficult it is. I think it’s part of my job to make sure that the audience doesn’t know and that they only experience the joy of the process when they see me on the screen.
How do you conquer your insecurities?
I think I learned very young to attack fear. There are tons of things that I’m scared of. It’s frustrating to me when I’m scared of something, so I’m forced to go and attack it. It’s been helpful, but it’s been painful.
Your son Jaden and daughter Willow are following in your footsteps and pursuing their own acting careers. What advice are you giving them?
My great-grandmother used to say, “Bought sense is better than that you borrow.” I always took that as doing it yourself. Earning that lump on your head is always better than listening to someone else about the lump they got on their head. Jada and I like to give our kids complete responsibility. Outside of life or death, we like to give them their own choices and put the responsibility of their lives on to them as much as they can handle it.
Do you have any bad habits you’d like to change?
I have that artist’s mind, so I never know where my keys are, where my wallet is, and I don’t really care a lot about clothes. I take my clothes off and drop them. I don’t clean up stuff. I’m always trying to create something, and I need my creative state to be kind of cluttered.
How do you deal with the pressure to stay on top in a tough business?
The more success that I have, the more difficult it becomes to do something new, to do something different, to find something creative and special. I’ve still got a little bit of room out there, but as I move along the margin for error is getting smaller and smaller.
What’s guiding you?
I must have some sort of weird anti-negativity filter, rose-colored glasses or something. I try not to acknowledge obstacles and boundaries. I still identify with what Barack Obama called “the audacity of hope.” I know some people may call it the arrogance of hope, or the foolishness of hope, but I believe something gets created when you believe in something.