How the Fresh Prince's son learned the family business
Just don't call me the Karate Kid's dad, Will Smith tells Declan Cashin
Published 11/08/2010 | 05:00
Will Smith might be the most powerful movie star on the planet -- his movies have grossed more than $5bn worldwide to date, while he can command $20m plus per movie -- but now he's facing some tough competition at the box office from someone very close to home: his son Jaden.
Smith Junior -- all of 12 years of age -- stars opposite movie legend Jackie Chan in a remake of the '80s movie The Karate Kid, and it's already a huge hit in the US -- a fact not lost on his father.
"The movie made $56m in America in its first three days, which was bigger than any of my movies other than Hancock and I Am Legend," Will jokes.
"Now I'm wondering if Jaden still needs to live at our house. Seriously, if one more person calls me 'the Karate Kid's dad', I'm going to be like, 'Alright, we have to get Men in Black 3 out immediately!'"
Will -- now aged 41 but still youthful-looking enough to pass for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air -- is speaking to the Irish Independent in London's Dorchester hotel, where he is staying with Jaden, as well as his stunning wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, while promoting The Karate Kid.
Will explains that he and Jada both served as producers on The Karate Kid, spending more than three months filming on location in China.
He makes it clear that his number-one priority throughout the whole process was the well-being and welfare of his young son, with whom he starred in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.
"This was a really big endeavour for Jaden to take on," Will admits (indeed, the boy trained for months to master the martial arts skills for the role, and he appears in practically every scene).
'We've pushed him really hard to achieve, but every day I had to remind myself -- actually Jada had to remind me -- that the family had to be first ahead of any project. This was difficult for me to understand because the way that I've been able to make things happen for me was by not letting anything get in the way.
"For example, when I made Ali, I did those boxing scenes with a broken thumb. I've always had that mentality that I don't know how to win unless I gamble everything, so it's been a real struggle for me to find that balance. It was hard to keep the pressure off of Jaden because he's so hard-working that you think you can push him for more."
It's pretty obvious from speaking to the twice Oscar-nominated star that he can barely contain his pride at young Jaden's achievements.
"I don't choke back the emotions, I boo-hoo every time I see him on screen," he laughs.
"There's no telling what this kid could do. He has the best of Jada and me." He pauses, before exploding in laughter: "It's just amazing that you can go to Mexico, drink some tequila, and then this amazing little guy shows up nine months later."
Will and Jada have been married since 1997 and also have a daughter, Willow (9). Their marriage is considered to be one of the strongest in Hollywood; just last month they revealed on the Oprah Winfrey Show that they like to sneak in quickie sex sessions on whatever movie or TV set they might be working on in order to keep the spark alive in their marriage.
By their own admission, the Smiths are probably uniquely qualified to help their son cope with the pressures of becoming a movie star.
"Jaden didn't have the shock, and the radical life change that child actors usually have coming into the business," Will says.
"It's a little bit of a shift because the attention is on him now, but for the most part it's not a shock. This is the family business. Jada and I have been through it all, and know the way it works, and the dos and don'ts.
'I think what happens with a lot of child stars is that they become the breadwinner. Child stars generally are broken by the pressure of being the main earner of a household at 14 or 16 years of age. I'm 41-years-old, and I still feel the pressure of being the main breadwinner of a house.
"When you put that on to a child, you lose that parent-child relationship, like there's a little bit of your power that gets destroyed in that process. So you either have to be a dictator or surrender to it.
"I hope we have a bit of a handle on it. We're paying attention to Jaden's energy, and his desire and his love for the job. He's really sensitive, but I know how he works on and off a set. Jaden has the mentality to bear the weight of what this movie's kind of success is going to bring into his life."
The Karate Kid is playing in cinemas now.