“I think that if I were to go now my legacy wouldn’t be what I wanted it to be. I think right now I’m really starting to create it. I love the idea that anything is possible.”
Will Smith is in a jovial mood. The 44 year-old actor has just arrived in Miami after completing a two week international press tour for his latest film, After Earth, his second collaborative effort with son Jaden. The Oscar winner candidly discusses his new movie, his parenting skills, the legacy he wants to leave and Jaden’s so-called emancipation.
What was it like working with Jaden for the second time?
He was seven years old in The Pursuit of Happiness, he is 14 now. There’s something really powerful about a 13 year-old going out to learn how to hunt with his father. I consider myself a warrior, and I’m a Samurai teaching my son how to fight, how to love, just really helping him develop in a young man. It was our version of a bromitzvah!
How did your roles as father and son in the film compare to your real relationship?
It was funny because my character is this huge general and a great warrior, and his son is trying to follow in his footsteps so it was similar in that sense. I think because we got to talk about our characters, Cypher and Kitai, we were really talking about Will and Jaden. We had plenty of conversations about things like discipline and why Cypher felt like it was such a necessity to be harder on Kitai than even on full-grown rangers. The concept of life and death is what comes into play as a father. Whether you are watching basketball or washing the dishes, in the mind of a warrior father, everything is life or death. The way you wash those dishes, the way you clean your room, the way you handle your schoolwork, one day its going to come back in a life or death scenario.
As a parent, would you say that there are similarities in how you were brought up to how you’re bringing up your children?
There are definite similarities. I grew up in a family business so my father, my mother and all my brothers and sisters worked in the family business, so that’s really the only way I know how to parent. In real situations, you are going out in the real world and you are earning real money. The things you say and do in the world will affect the family for real. My style of parenting is very similar to that of my parents, minus the concept of ownership. I think that, specifically in African American households, the idea coming out of slavery, there’s a concept of your children being property and that was a major part that Jada and I released with our kids. We respect our children the way we would respect any other person. Things like cleaning up their room. You would never tell a full-grown adult to clean their room, so we don’t tell our kids to clean their rooms. Actually, we tell our kids ‘you don’t have a room, that’s our room and we are letting you borrow it.’ So the same way you would say to an adult if you let them use car, you say, ‘Yo man, clean my car! Don’t drive around all filthy like that!’ And it’s perfectly reasonable for you to want an adult to clean your car, so we feel it’s perfectly reasonable to ask our kids to clean the rooms that we are letting them use.
It hit the press this week that Jaden wanted to be emancipated. Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, that was a joke! I made a joke. He is definitely not going anywhere; he is so scared of being out on his own. Willow is probably going to be emancipated before Jaden! I think I was in Tokyo where I made a joke that if he has a day where his movie is bigger than one of mine then there’s no reason for him to live in my house. His 15th birthday is coming up so he can probably be emancipated.
What’s next for you?
I definitely feel like I’ve been on a personal journey of development in the last year-and-a-half. I’ve made two movies in the last five years so I’ve had a lot of time to grow and to develop and get to know deeper parts of myself. I think my artistry now is going to be crazy. I think the depth of what I can deliver on camera, as a character at 44 is way different than what I could have done at 34. I’m excited to see what I do as an actor. I think my greatest passion is really helping people build their lives. I don’t know what that looks like for me, but there is nothing that is more fun than if someone comes up to me and says ‘Yo man, my dream is X’ and in my mind – I think at my core I’m kind of a physicist – so I love saying ‘That person is here, how do they get there?’ I love the alchemy of trying to figure out how to get that person where they are going. At this point in my life, that is a greater pleasure than my own dreams and successes.
Do you feel like you’ve arrived? Do you feel like your dreams have all come true?
You know, that’s funny. I was just saying to Jaden and his friends the other day to make sure their dreams are impossible, because they have to sustain them for a lifetime. My dream was that I want to be the biggest movie star in the world and I set out to just make big movies. But the worst thing that can happen is that you actually get to where you wanted to go. Three years ago, I had Hancock and I Am Legend in a six-month period and I felt complete. And then I was like ‘Uhoh,’ and had to really go back to the drawing board of my dreams. I even realized that material world dreams are dangerous. You have to be really careful with material world dreams on both sides: achieving them and not achieving them.
What do you think your legacy is going to be?
I think that if I were to go now my legacy wouldn’t be what I wanted it to be. I think right now I’m really starting to create it. I love the idea that anything is possible. I like the idea that when I show up, magic happens, that all of a sudden people feel like something which seemed impossible just got a little more possible. I want my legacy to be inspiration, that I inspired people to become everything that they dreamed and even the things that they never dreamed. That’s what I am doing with Jaden now, helping him develop and learn and grow. I want that to be my legacy. I want to look back at the string of lives that I changed.
What inspires you?
Happy people. Life can be miserable. Life is really, really hard for almost everybody. I get really inspired to see people take bad breaks and transform them into happiness. That people can take something that almost seems like snake venom and turn it into serum that cures someone else. I love the alchemy of misfortune and unconsciousness and transforming it into positivity and health and love and joy.
What is the one thing you can’t live without?
Photo credit: Robert Zuckerman