Meet the Man in Black: An intimate interview with Will Smith
On a sunny day in May I sat down with Will Smith to discuss his new film Men in Black Three, the third [and some would argue best] in the popular science fiction trilogy. We also talked about what he’s been doing in the three years since he stepped away from acting raising undeniably talented tweens Willow and Jaden and where the biggest box office star in the world finds his joy.
QUESTION: What do you know now that you didn’t know at 18?
What do I know now that I didn’t know at 18? Wow… that I control every interaction with every human being that I’m with. That a person isn’t just an asshole or a person isn’t crazy. If I am aware, I can actually manage any situation with 98% of the people on earth. Now there are some lunatics…there are some lunatics and I can’t do nothing with them. But for the most part you play a part in every aspect of your life going the way you want, or not going the way you want
QUESTION: A lot of actors stay away from their franchises after they reach a certain point
What do you mean by a certain point man? (joking?). Usually once you become a really old man …(Laughter)
QUESTION: What I mean is you’ve stood by Men In Black and said that you are willing to revisit Independence Day if it worked out so, what is it about the franchise that makes you stick by it?
You know, the greatest experience I have ever had in a movie theater was Star Wars. It shaped how I looked at the world. My imagination was so small before I went into that movie theater and there was an explosion that I had, [where] I just couldn’t figure out how someone came up with that. And then how could they make me feel like that after watching it. So for me there is nothing more valuable to me then how people feel in a movie theater about a movie. Right? So even more then awards, like that has never been important to me. That’s just what a small group of people think. For me it is about the maximum amount of people that can have an experience that will give them some little germ of something to think about or talk about, is all that is important to me in making movies. So I like big movies and the adjustment that I am making in my career right now is the clarity of what we are saying with the movie. Like there has to be an idea. There has to be some message or some statement. For me with MIB 3 we connected to the destructive nature of secrets. And that idea, whether you get that or not, when you look at it and think about it, is what we are displaying. And then how a relationship can get repaired and go to another level through the exposure of a secret.
QUESTION: With I Robot 2 and Bad Boys 2 are you using the same criteria and are they happening?
Yeah…I am open to it too so all of those producers are looking and trying to make it happen. I’d be surprised if all of those movies happened but you know Bad Boys 3 has a really solid idea behind it right now so, who knows with that? And for the most part I am just looking for material that resonates. Why I love science fiction so much is you can sit – I think the closest I have ever been is I Am Legend – where you can sit a performance and a serious idea at the center and then have this block buster wrapping all around it. So that’s my flavor that’s where I like to play. I like that big landscape.
QUESTION: Will how did you break the Ice with Tommy Lee Jones?
I just kissed him. (laughter) I tongue kissed him and he responds well to that. You should try it when he comes out.
QUESTION: Well he is kind of intimidating
Well here is the thing. Tommy Lee Jones is hilarious… if you were to look at the body of his work, the character that he is the most like is the Fugitive. That’s how he talks and jokes, [mimics Jones] “I don’t care!” Like that is the type of energy that he has. I think that you guys see him in a place where he is least comfortable. But Tommy is hilarious. He is right there in all of the jokes, right there playing around and everything.
QUESTION: Did you ever crack him up?
Yeah but it just looks different when you crack him up. You know when you hit a really big joke where you have scored, Tommy goes, hmph! But you know that is a really big score for Tommy. That’s a belly laugh.
QUESTION: For the last little bit we have missed you onscreen. Did you miss acting for these last three years while you were doing other things?
I love especially producing my kids and my wife’s TV show and all of that so I’m loving doing that. I think that’s my most natural space in the business. I would have to say, that if I just fell into what was the most natural place for me in the business it would have to be producing or editing. That’s where I thrive. But for me three years off camera and I just had to get back to work because Jaden, like he really wants to make movies badly. And just at the dinner table, he got a little bit of a predatory look in his eyes. He is so coming for me. He is so coming. I tell him all the time. “Son I’m going to teach you everything that I know and if you work hard, you can be the second biggest movie star in the world.”
QUESTION: In developing the Karate Kid sequel for him will you derive any inspiration from the first Karate Kid with the old rival Sato?
Yeah we are looking at that but we are probably no time in the next couple of years going back to that. He has ideas and things. He’s very specific about what he wants to do. In the Karate Kid he was just getting beat up all of the time. And we are working together now on a movie called “After Earth.” And it is Apocolyptic and he is like, “I want to make a comedy. Please let me make something funny.”
QUESTION: Will you mentioned filming in Costa Rico for After Earth and I just feel like there’s a really special connection with you and the Latino audience, whether it is in the US or Spain or where ever it is. What do you think it is about you that they really connect with?
[Will speaks Spanish:]
That was sexy right? That was sexy? (Laughs)
You know what happened probably about 29 years ago when we started the Fresh Prince, there was a troop of Latin American actors that translated the Fresh Prince. But what they did was that they didn’t just translate it directly, they translated it and adjusted some of the jokes that didn’t work for a Latin American audience. So the Fresh Prince of Bel Air became huge in Latin American countries and in Spain. And when I went to Mexico City and [the fans screamed] “El Principe, El Pricnipe,” … I had no idea that it was so successful. I just felt so honored by that. And I began taking Spanish. And I wanted to be able to communicate back how that made me feel.
QUESTION: We’ve seen you impart to your children that they won’t break. What do you teach your children about failure and how you handle your own failures, and that breaking place?
First and foremost, is that the idea of failure is a label. It has no bearing on what actually happened. What actually happened can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you, IF YOU DECIDE that it is the best thing that ever happened to you. So for me, the big thing with my kids is that you have to control how you label things. Because they are going to become what you say they are. So it’s very important to me that they understand the power that they have to create the lives that they want. Like Willow for instance, we have been getting flack for letting Willow cut her hair. And I just don’t – its so obvious to me that you have a little girl. How can you teach her that “You’re” in control of “Her” body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, then she is going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. Now she can’t cut my hair. But that is her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So for me there are things like that. So that when she goes out into the world she’s going out with a command that its hers and you can’t just touch her body if she doesn’t want you to … because she is used to it being hers and she is used to making that decision of herself. So for me it is more about lumping the responsibility on them for their lives. As much weight as they can hold without breaking, as many decisions as they can make without breaking, that is what we try to keep giving them until they can hold the full weight of their lives.
QUESTION: You mentioned the impact that Star Wars had on your life. How old were you and did you go home that day and say, “I’m going to be an actor?”
No it wasn’t about acting. I think I was ten or eleven. That was around 1978. And…over the next few months I just started realizing that it could be anything. My parents really do reinforce that. My mother worked for the school board in Philadelphia, so everything was about education. But it just felt like somehow the limits got knocked off after I saw that movie. And it coincided with the time that Rapper’s Delight came out. So it was like the introduction to rap music and Star Wars were in the same year. So it really sparked – you know rap music was something only people in New York did and it was separate and you couldn’t get it. But part of that experience of Star wars was that my mind got expanded in a way that it was really hard to explain.
QUESTION: What do you think of Jay Pharoah’s impression of you? [on SNL]
He’s got Denzel but he doesn’t really have me down yet. I’m a little more extensive then “Whooo!” You know, I don’t do that. (Laughter) but his Denzel is really good. Denzel might not think so (laughter.)
QUESTION: What gives you the most joy in your life right now? You asked that question of [Agent] K of in the movie. What makes your heart sing?
At this particular time it is different. But as a child I watched Dallas and that was my vision for my life for as long as I could remember. I was like, the property has a name, “South Fork.” How does the property have a name when ours was just “row house.” And everybody came to breakfast and they were all grown. Like grown people lived on the property. Everybody worked the family business and I was like, “I want that.” So I have been a mad scientist trying to build Dallas through Star Wars and rap music.
The joy is just watching how an idea that I had as a seven year old is coming into fruition. I’m actually building the family that I have always dreamed about and its just when I look at willow and the power that she has and I am working with Jaden now and my oldest son has just started dj’ing and he has been traveling all around the world. So its just like building a family around the entertainment business and learning all of the lessons and everything. I love watching my kids and my family blossom from something that was a seed in a seven year old’s mind.
Men in Black3 Hits theaters today! Go so see!
DANAI MARAIRE is the owner and main blogger for attagirlentertainment.com and the attagirltv channel on youtube. You can follow her on twitter @attagirlent for more exclusive celebrity interviews and entertainment content.