Actor Will Smith pays a visit to Yokota Air Base
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Stacey Thibodeaux had a birthday she’ll never forget.
With her husband, Albert, away in Kyrgyzstan, the Yokota woman was among several spouses of deployed servicemembers invited on stage to meet Hollywood megastar Will Smith during his visit to the base.
“He signed my birthday card,” said Thibodeaux, of New Orleans, who turned 28 on Tuesday. “Baby, thank you for getting deployed … I got a kiss from Will Smith on my birthday. This is the best birthday I’ve ever had.”
Another smooch came on the fly — literally.
“My husband is deployed to Afghanistan. He told me I can’t leave here without a kiss,” one woman said during a random question-and-answer session.
Without hesitating, Smith leapt off the stage, raced toward the woman and kissed her on the cheek.
“I love you. You’re so amazing,” she replied.
The 39-year-old former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and Grammy Award-winning rapper-turned-blockbuster movie star showed off his unabashed enthusiasm, trademark humility and unassuming nature during an hourlong appearance at Yokota’s outdoor Sakura Shell.
After flying in on a Black Hawk helicopter from Hardy Barracks in Tokyo, Smith addressed fans and then headed into the audience to sign autographs and pose for photos with servicemembers, civilians and their families. He smiled, waved and blew kisses to the crowd, pausing for as many requests as he could cram in.
“It was hugely important for me to come out and let you know we are thinking about you,” Smith said. “A lot of you are away from home and away from your loved ones for a long time. I wanted to come show you some love.”
The two-time Oscar nominee is in Japan to plug the upcoming release of his long-awaited, post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller “I Am Legend.” The world premiere was set for Wednesday at the Tokyo International Forum.
Staff Sgt. Christabell Hermsdorf, assigned to Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing, arrived about 40 minutes late.
“I ran up here,” said Hermsdorf, 23, of San Bernardino, Calif. “I’m a big fan. I just wanted to try to catch a glimpse. I got to see him on the stage, but I missed him speaking, unfortunately.
“It’s real exciting. I get star-struck very easily. I’ll come out to see any A-lister. I love Hollywood and gossip.”
Airman Kenneth Bailey of the 374th Maintenance Group got an autograph and a handshake from Smith.
“I grew up watching the ‘Fresh Prince,’ so it was nice to get a picture taken with him,” said Bailey, 22, of Augusta, Ga. “On a scale of one to 10, it was a 10.”
Handed a microphone, a young girl asked Smith to name the best movie he’s appeared in.
“‘Pursuit of Happyness’ is probably one of the best films I’ve made,” he answered, drawing wide cheers. “The most fun was with Martin Lawrence in ‘Bad Boys.’
“We had a great time shooting in Miami. And Martin is an all-around total fool.”
Laura Vargas, 25, a military spouse from Chicago, said she was thrilled to see a big star on base.
“It’s wonderful they didn’t forget about us overseas,” she added. “It’s awesome Will Smith came to see us.”
In a brief interview with Stars and Stripes, one of the planet’s biggest movie stars said he frequently travels the world promoting his films but felt a need to visit the troops during his three-day Japan stop.
“It’s a tough time for a lot of American families with their loved ones being away,” Smith said. “I felt like it was my pleasure and duty to come out and say, ‘We’re thinking about you. Good work and good luck.’”
Added Col. Jeff Newell, the 374th Airlift Wing commander: “What a day for Yokota Air Base.”
Smith’s promotional visit for U.S. Forces Japan was sponsored by Stars and Stripes, in association with Access Television, Japan.
Review:‘I Am Legend’ slightly predictable
TOKYO — Will Smith’s new sci-fi horror flick is packed with intense moments aimed at rattling holiday audiences.
“I Am Legend” certainly delivers plenty of thrills, chills and big-screen suspense, but it also lacks major twists and turns, treading a path that occasionally becomes too predictable.
Media members were shown an advance screening of the film Monday night in Tokyo’s Ginza district.
Originally a 1954 novel, “I Am Legend” has been adapted on the silver screen twice before in 1964’s “The Last Man on Earth” and the 1971 Charlton Heston saga “The Omega Man.”
In the latest version, Smith plays Robert Neville, a brilliant scientist with a military past who winds up the sole survivor in what remains of New York City following a catastrophic, incurable virus outbreak. Some scenes required the crew to shut down six blocks of Fifth Avenue.
“I’ve never done anything before that had this level of scariness, or this level of intensity with that fear-level complex,” Smith said Tuesday during a visit to Yokota Air Base. “If everybody actually was gone, what would it be like? I had a great time exploring that.”
In the role, Smith is often the only actor on screen, but he keeps the audience locked in with a gripping, passionate and emotional performance.
But Neville, somehow immune to the plague, isn’t completely alone. Danger and evil lurk in the dark.
“I Am Legend” features an intriguing plot and cool concept. The special effects are top shelf, and Smith turns in a compelling effort, but the futuristic storyline seems underdeveloped and rushed to conclusion.
“I Am Legend” is set for a Dec. 14 release in the United States, Japan and South Korea. The movie opens Dec. 21 in Army and Air Force Exchange Service theaters at Yokota Air Base, Japan; Yongsan Garrison and Kunsan Air Base in South Korea; and Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
— Vince Little