Mary Sollosi
December 17, 2015 AT 12:00 PM EST

Concussion star Will Smith is no stranger to playing real-world sports figures, but he almost turned down the role of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian doctor who identified and sought to bring attention to a degenerative disease caused by repeated brain trauma that is common in American football players.

A diehard football fan, Smith was unsure about portraying someone who essentially went to war with the National Football League in the drama from writer/director Peter Landesman (Parkland). “I got the screenplay, I read it, and was deeply conflicted,” the actor recently told EW. “I wasn’t excited to be the guy that gave this information, in the cinematic version, to the world.”

But after meeting the forensic pathologist, he ultimately was convinced to sign on. “At that point, the story took on broader proportions,” Smith says. “It became not a movie about concussions; it became, to me, a movie about a man who believed that we are, as Americans, what we say we are.”

To hear more from Smith, watch the video above. Concussion gets a theatrical release on Dec. 25.

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