Say what you will about Will and Jaden Smith's After Earth performance at the box office this weekend, because one thing is for sure: The Smiths may be the first family of Hollywood.
You were the first African-American entertainment hero. Is this something that you see as your biggest achievement?
“I think that it has definitely been a huge achievement. For [many] years, I bumped into the perspective that black people can’t translate a film internationally. So, to me, that’s just a ridiculous concept. People are going to go see things that are good. If a black person is good in the movie, people will go see it. And if they suck, they are going to be the actor who didn’t do a good job. So for me, yes, I think that’s been a huge accomplishment of mine in the world. But I feel like the thing that I am going to truly be remembered for I haven’t done yet. I am still seeking.”
Did you have any fears about letting the kids get into entertainment?
“I was raised in the family business. My father owned an ice house, so those bags of ice you see in the supermarkets, we would bag those and deliver them. And he was also in the military, so I was raised in a military mindset. I learned everything I know about life [from] working with my father. We would deliver ice, get money, go right to the supermarket counter, and buy food. So, I have a really direct connection between being able to survive in the world and the lessons coming from actual work with [my] parents.”
But it’s important to have to let them go and be their own person.
“Yes, and that was one of the things that came up with [Jaden] and I working on After Earth. That’s a very similar situation with my character Cypher and his character Kitai. So you have this general who has a teenager, and they are in a life and death situation. The general feels like, ‘Do what I tell you to do.’ And the son’s feeling is, ‘You are not out here, you are not doing it, I am doing it.’ So it’s that parental-teenager collision that was perfect for Jaden and I to be able to talk about, because we could talk about it in terms of Cypher and Kitai, but we were both voicing our opinions about Will and Jaden.”
How difficult was it for your father to let you go back then?
“You know, fortunately for me, when I actually had to leave, I was on the road and my father still had to work in the early years, so it was good for me. He definitely would not have approved of anything that I was doing, any of the decisions that I was making, and luckily for me, I was able to do it [anyway]. But I think this movie depicts that really difficult time where Cypher has to watch his son make poor decisions.”
Photo: Unimedia International/Rex USA
Are you more demanding with him on the set than anyone else?
“Not for After Earth. I made the adjustment, that was something that Jaden was very specific about for me making the transition. For The Karate Kid, I was the general and we had to get this movie made. So really for After Earth, I stepped back and allowed the things that he had learned, and I treated him more as a co-star than as my son.”
There’s a new door opening in terms of aging.
“Yeah, I think that when you turn 40, you get to that point and you just kind of reassess. I have looked back and I have achieved all of the things that I wanted to achieve in my life, but I have had to desensitize to do that. And now, there’s the higher level of sensitivity, in interaction, specifically [in] having a daughter. When you have a daughter, that changes everything because she demands more from a place that you have got to block off in order to work 19 hours a day. So, for me, I am finding that there’s a higher level of interaction and human pleasure in love if I don’t have horse blinders on to all of the other things that are happening around me.”
You look so happy. What is your secret?
“I sat with Warren Buffett the other day, and generally when I see anyone who makes it to 80, they know something. So, generally [in] the past two or three years, I have been asking people questions about life and Warren said something that was so powerful. He said [that] nobody will ever be happy who doesn’t do what they want to do. I got lucky with it, and I love making movies. My hobby became my profession. I love this.”
After Earth is out now in theaters.
Photo: Unimedia International/Rex USA