‘Boulders exploding near his head’

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Will Smith’s wild new nature series, “Welcome to Earth,” follows the actor as he takes his trademark enthusiasm and explores the far-flung corners of the world.

The series (now streaming on Disney+) follows Smith, 53, as he takes his trademark quips, enthusiasm and adventurous spirit into a remote slices of the natural world to discover and explore hidden places that the average person can’t reach.

For instance, the show sees the “King Richard” star plunge into the deep sea, climb an active volcano, use never before seen technology to track wildebeests’ herd movements in the Serengeti in the middle of the night, and go rappelling off a glacier in Iceland. 

Executive producer Jane Root revealed to The Post how “Welcome to Earth” pulled off filming tricky sequences in remote locations.

“Taking one of the most recognizable global superstars in the world around the planet to do difficult things — yes, it’s really difficult!” she said. 

Will Smith and director Darren Aronofsky walk outside while talking near the Mount Yasur volcano in "Welcome to Earth."
Will Smith and director Darren Aronofsky walk near the Mount Yasur volcano in “Welcome to Earth.”
Photo credit National Geographic

An explosive episode 

In the episode “The Silent Roar,” Smith joins explorers to climb Mount Yasur, a volcano that has been erupting continuously for hundreds of years and can be approached safely — in theory. However, as Root told the Post, that ended up not being quite the case when, “The nylon ropes that some of the team were using actually melted,” she said. “It was that hot. And you have boulders the size of cars exploding.”

In the show, Smith joins mountaineers to use technology to listen to the sounds a volcano makes that are too bass-heavy for the naked ear to hear. But soon, it became a rush just to make it out in one piece, said Root.

“Obviously we do health and safety work immaculately, but we didn’t expect the volcano to explode like that. We really didn’t. Right near [Will Smith’s] head, there’s huge boulders exploding. It was the closest call, honestly.”

Will Smith stands with his back to the camera in front of a volcano emitting smoke.
Will Smith stands near an exploding volcano that surprised the production on “Welcome to Earth.”
Photo credit National Geographic

Fighting fear

For the episode “Descent into Darkness,” which sends Smith to a cave at the bottom of the Atlantic, he had to work on overcoming his own fear, Root said. 

“One of the things about Will is his superpower is that he’s prepared to admit he’s frightened — and he’s really frightened of water,” said Root. “He didn’t learn to swim until pretty late, his family business was busy during the summer so they didn’t do beach stuff. Water is not his friend. And yet, he said to us, ‘I want to see and experience amazing things.’ So, we were like, ‘How about the bottom of the ocean?’  There was definitely a pause, and he was like ‘Are you really sure?’

In the show, Smith joins explorer Diva Amon in a deep-water submersible called a Nadir to plummet down 3,300 feet underwater. 

“Going down to the bottom of the ocean, he was very fearful. You get a sense of him being very silent,” said Root. “I think that journey he had to go through his own real terror about the ocean made it even more amazing.”

A tech boost from the military

In the episode “Mind of the Swarm,” Smith journeys to Serengeti to watch lions and wildebeest herd movements in the dead of the night. In order to get clear shots of them, the show used military grade drones that haven’t been used in “civilians circumstances” before, Root said. 

“That was stuff borrowed from the army, in order to film those things in pitch darkness. So, there’s a lot of innovation that has to go on. Sometimes what you’re doing is you’re taking technology from another place and applying it to this world, and that’s what gives you the results you’re looking for.”

“Welcome to Earth” is now streaming on Disney+

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