Will Smith: Renaissance Man

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Will Smith
SWEATER: Gucci
TROUSERS: Paul Smith
SNEAKERS: Puma

Photo Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

Photography: Brian Bowen Smith 

Styling: Fawn Boardley 

Last year on December 14, Will Smith finally joined the world of social media. From his inspirational and instructional Instagram posts to his YouTube channel, it has become clear that he has found his purpose and the platform to share who he truly is. This unprecedented change in the notoriously private star came after a self-imposed two-year hiatus from filmmaking where he disconnected from the world at large to reconnect with himself.

Since then, Smith has worked on multiple film projects, three of them to be released in 2019, started a water company, JUST Water, with his son Jaden Smith, made music with Nicky Jam, Marc Anthony and Bad Bunny, and celebrated his 50th birthday with an epic leap from a helicopter into the Grand Canyon. Here, the father of three gets personal with Haute Living and gives us some insight into what brings him the most joy, what drives him and what he is committed to.

You recently announced the filming of Bad Boys 3 (aka Bad Boys for Life). What is happening with that?

It’s been a long-ass time. We start in January 2019. We will be a few weeks in Miami, but there are a few other locations―shooting some of it in Atlanta, and there will be some of it in South America somewhere. That was my first time seeing Martin [Lawrence] in a while; we did a table read, and that chemistry is eternal. We are just good together. There is a magic between us that is just beautiful to watch and beautiful to be a part of. And the story is crazy―I think people will be surprised. One of the benefits of us being so young when we made the first one is we weren’t really seasoned performers and filmmakers, so there was a rough rawness to it that was fun, but this is the best screenplay we have ever had. People have been away for a while, so it’s an opportunity for the third one to be the best of them all.

Will SmithPhoto Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

You have been busy. You have been filming all over the world, and one of the things that has changed this year is the way you have allowed the public into your life. What inspired you to do that?

I think a couple of things happened―one of the major things that happened is that I hit that midlife-crisis point, where I’ve built all of the things I’ve ever dreamed of. And in my family―2012 I secretly call the year of the mutiny. And 2012 was really the year that my family rejected the direction of my leadership. And that was the main thing that happened. My father was in the military, and he ran the house like a military unit. We had to put hospital corners on our bed, my shoes lined up in the closet. He was in the Air Force, so he dealt with the family like a soldier. And he had a family business. I was used to the whole family working the family business and being run like a military unit. You follow orders, you have goals, you achieve things and there’s punishment from the higher ranks if you don’t do what you are told to do. I lightened up on it a little bit, but the things that I brought in from my childhood were, we are in a family business, we all work together and I’m in command; I’m the leader, and the way that we win is by everyone doing what I say. Willow was really the first person during “Whip My Hair” that decided she didn’t want to do what I said. Because she was the baby girl, she really had the most power over me. As a man―if your daughter says no, there’s really nothing you can do. She really tested me. She was like, no she didn’t want to. She was done with “Whip My Hair.” She was done with performing, and as a protest she shaved her head bald. That was really the first time that I realized that my family wasn’t happy with the direction that I was taking them. I felt like I was winning. We were succeeding. We had Karate Kid [starring Jaden]. We had “Whip My Hair.” Jada had Hawthorne, and we hosted when Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize―we hosted all of that in one year. I felt we were doing well, and my family wasn’t happy. So, I took two years off. I met Michaela Boehm, who studied under David Deida, who is the author of the book The Way of the Superior Man, and I started reading his work, and I was like, “Oh my God, he understands.” I literally worked with Michaela for two years. Trying to figure out what I didn’t know about my family being happy. And I didn’t work―I didn’t make a movie for two years. I knew there was more I needed to know other than conquering in movies, conquering in television, conquering in music and entertainment. I had done all this conquering, but no one around me was happy. So, I shut it down, and in that time I discovered so much new wisdom, so many new ideas. I traveled, and I met people, I studied. I probably read 50 books in the last four years. The most reading I’ve done in my life. Because I disappeared from the world, I fueled up and I started putting my toes back into it, and everything was different. I felt like Neo in The Matrix. Everything I tried to do was easy. And I was looking for how to share the new ideas, to share the new information in the form of artistry ―how was I going to deliver my message. And then I worked with David Ayer on Bright. And with Bright, I worked with Netflix, and that was my first introduction to the power of digital media and all of the interconnectivity. When they were explaining it and its reach, it sounded just like all the spiritual ideas I had been studying. I couldn’t believe how close the ideas that they were talking about in regards to selling a movie were to the ideas of the Bhagavad Gita. I got wildly inspired about how I would deliver the lessons that I had learned to the world in this new media, and social media became that outlet for me.

What does life look like on the other side of that epic jump into the Grand Canyon? What are you committing to now?

I am still exploring and experiencing and experimenting. So, every day I want to stay on the edge of my comfort zone because that’s where the lessons are. I’m committed to learning, and I’m committed to serving because that’s what brings me the most joy. So, I want to explore, experience and experiment with the purpose of acquiring wisdom and divine understanding and applying that to my service of the human family. My life is really simplified down to those ideas, and I trust that all the other things will come. If I commit to those ideas and if I commit to service, then all the other things that I used to crave will come with that. Love is going to come with that, and friendship and money will come with that. I don’t have to seek money. I seek service, and the higher the quality of my service, the more money that I make. I’m always looking for how to care for people and entertain, inspire and instruct in the best ways, and I feel confident that all the other things that I desire will be born of those things.

Will Smith
SWEATER: Paul Smith
TROUSERS: Dolce & Gabbana
SNEAKERS: Lanvin

Photo Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

What’s the biggest takeaway after your jump? What is the lesson?

For me, it was the danger of hesitation. If you hesitate on the ground, you hesitate before you think you are going to do something. If you hesitate in the middle, that can really be dangerous. The guy said to me right before, “The only way you can get hurt is if you don’t get away from this chopper.” He said, “I’m going to start counting down from five, and when we get to one, we are going to let go of the bungee cord, and this bungee cord has an equivalent weight of about 400 lbs., and it will snatch you down. If you do not get away from this chopper is the only way you can get hurt.” It was such a powerful spiritual idea that I had to leap off into fear and leap into the unknown, and you do all your thinking before you are in the moment. You think it, you work it out, you do all your research, but once you go, you have to go. It was a very, very powerful lesson in deciding. You couldn’t possibly know all the variables of any given circumstance. You never can really make a thoroughly researched decision because all of the factors that go into it are infinite! So, you are only making an educated guess anyway. And it’s not really educated. You kind of make a snap decision at the last moment because you couldn’t possibly know. You are guessing. You can educate yourself, but it’s much more about feeling the moment than it is thinking the moment. You do your thinking, you let it go and then you have to commit. The idea of committing is so powerful versus hesitating and complaining.

Let’s talk a little bit about Red Table Talk. Red Table Talk has also allowed us an intimate look inside your world through the most important women in your life. How has that impacted you?

I think the big thing is how perfectly it worked out for Jada―that’s the most important aspect to me. She has finally found a lane for her voice. Acting didn’t really do it for her; music didn’t really do it for her; parenting didn’t really give her the full expression that she wanted. Starting a family was beautiful for her, but it wasn’t the full expression of herself that she had been seeking. And Red Table Talk was the first thing I’ve ever seen where she gets to be her fully unapologetic and doesn’t have to feel unwelcomed or judged. She’s always felt that her voice was too abrasive for people. She couldn’t say things the way she wanted. And what happens with the Red Table Talk―she gets to shoot at home, she comes down, she has breakfast and walks in the other room and just talks. This beautiful freedom that she’s never had, that for me is that thing that I always tried to help her with that has taken two decades for her to find. And in terms of Willow, I just love that she gets to sit at that table with her mother and grandmother and hear their life stories and their experiences and gets to sit and talk to brilliant people. It’s a spectacular education for Willow. I’m humbled when I watch that girl hold her own on that red table at 18. And I also look at the red table and think, “I’m doing something right.” I’m balling! I want to create space for women to blossom. Part of the deepest joy of my heart is crafting gardens for women in my life to be safe, nourished and empowered, and Red Table being shot in our home just makes me feel great about myself.

Will Smith
HOODIE: Dolce & Gabbana
JEANS: Tom Ford
SNEAKERS: Nike (Air Jordans)

Photo Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

You have a very close relationship with your kids. What is the biggest lesson you have learned from them?

That they are not mine. I thought about them as mine for so long, and as soon as I realized that they are their own people that belong to God, our relationships got spectacular. That I want to help them to become what they want to become rather than try to force them to become what I want them to be. I want them to behave the way they want to behave and reap the benefits and punishments of their behavior versus trying to force them to behave the way I want them to behave.

You spent a lot of time investing in music this year. Nicky Jam, Marc Anthony, Bad Bunny… Can we expect to hear more from you? Are you working on an album?

In my spiritual process I don’t plan anymore. I’ve relinquished planning. I try to stay awake from moment to moment, and when I look at the sky and I look at the ocean there’s an energy that plans better than me, and I try to allow that energy to plan my life. The energy that created the stars, the energy that beats my heart and the energy that makes the ocean go in and out. I try to let that energy plan my life. I talk about it like the second level of the video game. The first level of the video game is about discipline and planning and structured endurance. And now, I feel like I’m on the second level, and it’s much more about being than it is about doing. I’ve mastered planning and conquering, and now I’m trying to harness the power of stillness and wondering. I’m just having fun. My plan is to play and dance.

Will Smith
BOMBER JACKET: Dolce & Gabbana
T-SHIRT: John Varvatos
TROUSERS: Ferragamo
SNEAKERS: Nike

Photo Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

Let’s talk about JUST Water. What are your plans with the company?

JUST Water is Jaden’s baby, and the family is supporting him in the creation and nurturing of his vision. The environment is his main philanthropic focus. JUST is really the beginning. We started with water, but JUST is an idea, and we are hoping to grow JUST into a movement and into a community of people that are focused on conscious consumption. There’s a way that we run the company and a way that we deal with the environment and the towns that we work in and the people that we work with that we are hoping to expand through multiple companies and multiple arenas. There’s a certain consciousness that the brand was born with that we hope to build and expand and partner in creating a more harmonious future between humans and the environment.

In your YouTube channel, who is your audience?

I speak really generally. I try not to think about a target audience. I try to create material that is simple enough and fun enough for young people to enjoy, but also that it has an idea or depth to it that is hearty enough for older people to watch. I’m always trying to create with the idea that anybody and everybody could be sitting there at the same time. And a part of that is having an idea at the center of the pieces that are human ideas. Everybody is looking to be entertained, so I want to maintain the entertainment element, but there’s also instruction that goes along. So, I am doing this at a level that whoever is watching will be entertained, inspired and instructed.

Will Smith
SWEATER: Paul Smith
TROUSERS: Dolce & Gabbana
SNEAKERS: Lanvin

Photo Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

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