Two celebrity superstars walk into a bar… it seems like the start of a joke, and it sort of is.
The joke being on us thinking that Will Smith and Jay Z, who “teamed up” after having dinner at a bar one night, decided to remake Annie and were on set every day watching dailies, keeping director Will Gluck in check and making sure the whole thing came in under budget.
After speaking with the cast of Annie (Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne and her boyfriend Bobby Cannavale), it was painfully obvious that Smith and Jay Z not only had minimal involvement, but they likely never set foot on set even once. Maybe Will Smith was just bitter that Sony thought it was a bad idea to cast his daughter Willow in the title role.
When the project was first announced, news spread that one night over dinner, a partnership was formed between Will Smith’s production company, Overbrook Entertainment, Jay Z (who had remade “It’s the Hard-knock Life” and also produced Willow’s hit “Whip My Hair”) and Sony Pictures. The intention was to make Willow a superstar, but soon after, rumors began to circulate that during a screen test it was clear that Willow didn’t have the chops. Sony was also reticent after making another Smith family vanity project, After Earth. The now-legendary flop, featuring Smith and son Jaden was, at the time, Smith’s lowest-grossing summer debut. Sony executives wanted the project; they just didn’t want Willow attached.
First we heard that Sony decided Willow, 12, was “too old;” then it was “she just wants to be a kid and not an actress.” Then, a year later, Willow herself came up with her own spin: “…something inside me was just, like, ‘Don’t.’ I’m very connected with my intuition.”
During the recent Sony e-mail hack, we learned that Sony executives were making jokes about how you should never include the Smith children in any movies being made. This may lead a person to buy the story that Sony felt Willow couldn’t carry a film and was convinced it was a vanity project built on nepotism and not talent, so they replaced her with Quvenzhané Wallis, 11, who was just nominated for an Oscar.
When I asked the cast about Will Smith and Jay Z’s involvement with Annie, the sarcasm began to fly. Diaz said that every morning they would cook her breakfast. Bobby Cannavale chimed in with how Smith was available to him on demand to do some of his favorite scenes from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Jamie Foxx said, “They were there every day. Jay Z would fly in every day from the tour with Beyoncé.” When I realized he was putting me on, I asked point-blank if they were ever there. Jamie Foxx looked directly into the camera and quietly said, “No.”
Watch the video to hear more from the cast of Annie about Will Smith and Jay Z’s involvement and hear some other ways Smith and Jay Z catered to their every whim.