“Will’s here,” says an assistant.
No kidding. His laugh —familiar from 100 episodes of “Fresh Prince” — booms across the Hollywood soundstage, as he arrives to meet me. Despite being the single biggest star on the planet, with a net worth of $200 milion, Smith still comes off as happy-go-lucky — and happy to laugh at his own jokes.
His son, Jaden, follows behind, serious, yet gracious. A box-office draw in his own right, after “The Karate Kid,” the 14-year-old toplines their new film “After Earth,” set 1,000 years into the future. In it, his trainee braves a planet overgrown by wild creatures, to save his injured father, played by Smith.
The film’s eco-message made them the perfect Special Guests for our Earth Day edition. In an intimate, hour-long chat, the two discussed working together, how to fix the planet, and the inevitable: life with mom. That very week, Jada Pinkett Smith posted a Facebook missive, clarifying earlier statements about her and Will’s “open relationship,” calling it instead a “grown relationship.”
Smith talked about that as best he could, given that his young son was sitting right there with him.
You guys work together, live together — but online, I see videos of Jaden skateboarding, talking about girls—
Jaden: Um-hmm. Um-hmm.
So I wondered—
Will: Wait. [To Jaden] You be talking about girls a whole lot?
J: In interviews, Dad. About them. I’m not online, like, “Hey, girls, hello!” [Mimes taking a photo of himself] Tweet!
Will, how aware are you of what Jaden’s doing?
W: Not much at all. Not much at all. That’s what I like him to think. [Laughs] I have a group of Men in Black that keep up pretty good.
J: This is what I’ve realized: No matter what I do or how I do it, he knows 100 percent of what’s going on.
J: There’s no point in hiding anything because he knows. Whether he acts on it or not, he knows.
How do you know he knows?
J: I just know that he knows. [Both laugh]
W: I heard Jaden’s friend one time, they were sitting around, talking about something and I came in the room and said, “Hi” and walked out of the room and paused for a second and I hear the friend saying, “Dude, I’m telling you, he knows! He knows!” [Both laugh uproariously]
J: He knows, bro.
When was the last time you were punished, Jaden?
W: We don’t do punishment. The way that we deal with our kids is, they are responsible for their lives. Our concept is, as young as possible, give them as much control over their lives as possible and the concept of punishment, our experience has been — it has a little too much of a negative quality. So when they do things — and you know, Jaden, he’s done things — you can do anything you want as long as you can explain to me why that was the right thing to do for your life.
J: It works pretty well.
But most teenagers aren’t naturally introspective. Jaden, do you find yourself asking yourself deep questions about your behavior and acting accordingly?
J: Yeah. Other teenagers go to parties and sometimes I be like, “Why am I here right now?” And most of the time, I just leave right then and there. Some things I don’t like to do, that other teenagers do. Everyone thinks that since you make movies, you go to parties, and I like to party, but not normal teenage parties.
Are you missing out on a good ol’ fashioned American childhood?
J: Not at all. I go out and skate every night. Hang out with people, skate, hang out with more people, skate to their house.
W: [To Jaden] What do you see as the purpose and point? So you’re not going out and partying — what’s the purpose, what’s the point, what are you doing?
J: It’s not like I don’t want to go to parties because I need to study and go to college; I just don’t wanna go. If they’re gonna play house music, I’m maybe interested, but if it’s some random place and they’re playing Waka Flocka Flame….
Will, how and when did you and Jada decide Jaden could handle a full-fledged movie career?
W: You can never be certain. You have an idea, you can feel your kids, but until the things in their lives start to unfold and the things they cause begin to have effects, you can never totally see. But we felt that because they were choosing a business that we were both successful in, then at a minimum, we could give good advice.
You used the phrase “they were choosing” but did they choose? Jaden, you were going to the red carpet when you were in diapers.
J: It was not going to the red carpet so people could see us, it was going to the red carpet because we had free tickets.
W: [Laughs] That’s what our life was. The family has a movie so they’re going.
J: It started with our mom is going to the red carpet, she doesn’t want to leave us with somebody so she’s going to bring us. Then it got to us walking. And then it got to us starring in movies.
Jaden, your music is trippy. It’s far from Will’s feel-good beats. Is that consciously your own thing?
J: I mean, people are already telling me I look like him, that I talk and walk like him. If I rapped like him too, people would be like, “Let’s go on the Fresh Prince Tour.”
Fresh Prince and Fresh Prince Jr. — I would go to that tour.
J: I had to go way left with it because if I came out with a song with me and a bunch of girls in a car with sunglasses on [the Pacific Coast Highway] going ,”Yeah!”, they’d go, “That’s the average thing to do.” Instead I came out with the video for “The Coolest” and people were like, “Whoa! The camera’s going upside down.”
Will, can you even connect to his music, at your age?
W: At 14, his mind is so much deeper and more complex than my mind was at 14 years old. Lyrically, where he goes and what he creates and how the things are conceptually is beyond what I could create at 14 years old.
Or even later in your career: “Miami” is not telling a complex story.
W: Right. Poetically, he’s beyond where I ever go to with my music. My strength is ideas. And record structure. I knew how to make records in the way you get to the hook when the crowd wants it.
J: That’s what you’re really good at. You could go anywhere and be like, “When I say hip, you say hop,” and they’ll all say it! If I go up there, I’ll say, “All right guys, I’m gonna read you a Shakespearean sonnet real quick, here I go.” [Both laugh]
The funniest part to me is the music, the old school sound of the music that I have in some of my songs is like what his old school beats used to sound like. It’s just different. We’re the opposite, but similar in some ways.
W: That’s my seed. Remember where you came from.
Jaden, would you produce Will’s album?
J: If you decided, like, “All right Jaden, I’m serious, I want to make an album”...
W: Oh, if I was serious?
J: I mean, you have movies to make. Businesses you want to start. You’re a busy man.
W: I see how it is.
Jaden may be too big for you, Will.
W: I know, I know. He’s very serious and very focused and has a very rare combination of talent, desire, willingness and means. Which verrrrry, very rarely do those things come together and converge in the proper timing. So I’m excited to see what he decides to do with his life.
Jaden, what happens when you’re 18 and Will kicks you out of the house.
J: We’ll probably work together ‘till he retires and he probably won’t retire.
W: [Laughs] No we’ve been talking about, he’s been thinking about becoming an emancipated minor.
J: Just thoughts that pop into my head.
They made a movie about that — a girl divorced her parents.
Rent that, get some tips.
W: [Laughs] No, it’s not like that. More the idea that, I want him to have as much command and freedom if he is willing to accept responsibility. Those are two concepts that are inexorably bound. So he’s a very responsible young man so he’s entitled to the maximum freedom. [To Jaden] I said “inexorably.” You heard that? Someone Google that for Jaden.
Justin Bieber, who you’re both friends with, has been in the press for some growing pains. Did you learn anything from his last six months?
W: I talk to Justin once a week and Justin is suffering from immature adulthood in the media and surrounding world. Justin’s not doing anything that a normal 19-year-old wouldn’t want to do and wouldn’t need to do to become a man. The transition from boyhood to manhood is a very difficult transition that he’s handling on a world stage better than 95 percent of the people who talk s— about him.
Bieber’s on Twitter. Jaden, you’re on Twitter. Will, what’s up?
J: He doesn’t have one. Usually there’ll be people who have a Twitter. He doesn’t have one. He likes Facebook.
W: I got 44 million people on Facebook. I’m just saying. I don’t know how many people you got on Twitter.
J: I knew you were going to say that.
W: I’m just saying, I don’t know how many people you got. How many people?
J: Four million.
W: Four million. Yeah. I got that after my first number.
J: I feel like people on Facebook will just randomly follow just anybody.
W: [Laughs hysterically]
Jada’s on Facebook.
Will + Jaden: Ohhhhhh!
W: Oh, Mommy be going in!
J: My mom goes in on Facebook! She goes in!
Is she aware other people can read what she writes?
[Both laugh loudly]
J: She’ll be like—
W: She’ll call a family meeting.
Will + Jaden: [Doing Jada impression] “I’m posting this on Facebook!”
J: [continuing impression] “I don’t care what people say. If we get hit for this, this is what the truth of the world is.’”Uh, okkkkay mom. She’ll be on the phone with a manager, “I don’t care what they said, I’m posting this on Facebook.” I think she should write a book.
W: Jada is very serious and opinionated and she loves Facebook because it’s the only place she’s ever had where she’s felt like all of her can be received. She’s struggled her whole life where only a part of her is OK.
In her posts, she can take a generality and break it down into a truth. She posted recently about you having a “grown relationship.”
W: A “grown relationship.” [Looks down]
Anything to add?
W: She put some serious, hardcore truth out there. [Pauses] And I think, the five minutes we have left, aren’t gonna be enough to cover it. [Laughs]
OK, onto the Earth Day issue then?
W: Yes! Earth Day! Please!
Click to read '1,000 years in the future: Melting point'