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No growing pains for Mr & Mrs Smith ... and superstar children

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Actress Jada Pinkett Smith (L) and her daughter singer/actress Willow Smith. Photo: Getty

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith (L) and her daughter singer/actress Willow Smith. Photo: Getty

Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith

Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith

Jaden and singer Willow Smith

Jaden and singer Willow Smith

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Actress Jada Pinkett Smith (L) and her daughter singer/actress Willow Smith. Photo: Getty

Will Smith has a new outlook on teenagers: parents do indeed understand.

The rapper-turned-actor says he's grown a lot since writing the Grammy-winning 1988 hit that humorously declared they didn't.

All three of his children now at least dabble in music and acting, most notably 14-year-old Jaden, who stars with his father in the new sci-fi film After Earth.

Even in the midst of a globe-hopping promotional tour for the movie, Smith recognises the downside to making stardom a family affair.

"I think that the major risk is strictly emotional," he said. "The business has almost a narcotic quality. So it's almost as if you're introducing a narcotic into your kid's life.

"So for [wife] Jada and I, the most important thing is that they have to stay focused and grounded on the fact that they are giving. You don't make movies for your ego. You make movies to transfer information, to bring joy, to add value to the world."

 

Poke

At an After Earth promotional event at the under-construction Virgin Galactic spaceport in the New Mexico desert, Smith does everything he can to playfully poke at his son's ego.

When Jaden drops a water bottle during a TV interview, he is quickly reprimanded: "You're kidding, right? That's the most unprofessional thing I've seen you do."

Smith reaches over to shield his son's face from bright camera lights, taunting the teen as a "super mega movie star, towering over you like a shadow over you. And you're living in his shadow. And you've got to do interviews in his shadow." Jaden, obviously accustomed to the teasing, responds with calm confidence and some of dad's hammy humour, saying he lives naturally in the spotlight.

"You have to try to put your shadow on me," said Jaden, who rode his skateboard through a hall between interviews. "But eventually your arm gets tired and it falls away and you let me go back to my natural state."

His father nods in mock sincerity. "Oh, that's deep. You are a deep being," he says.

Their film is set in a future where nature has turned on humans and survivors were forced to start a new civilisation on another planet. Jaden plays a trainee trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, a famous military leader played by Smith. When the two crash-land on an inhospitable Earth, Jaden's character must prove his own abilities to survive, and save his father in the process.

"It is very allegorical in a way, right?" said screenwriter Gary Whitta, who developed the story with Smith and co-wrote the film with director M Night Shyamalan. "Jaden, I'm sure, looks up to Will and is like, 'Wow, my dad is like the biggest movie star in the world. How can I ever live up to that?' But he's trying."

Smith (44) and Jaden first worked together in 2006's The Pursuit Of Happyness. Smith produced his son's hit 2010 remake of The Karate Kid.

Smith's daughter Willow, now 12, appeared in two movies but has focused on music. After causing a stir with the pop smash Whip My Hair three years ago, she's backed away from the spotlight but continued to release songs online.

Smith's other son, Trey (20), has taken up DJ work and posts electronic dance songs and mixes online. Jada Pinkett Smith is an actress, author, singer-songwriter and businesswoman.

Smith makes no apologies for encouraging his children to follow their parents toward cameras and microphones.

"I grew up in a family business. So it's like everybody works together and that's how the family bonds and communicates and how we eat," he said. "In my mind, I'm a warrior and I'm teaching my son how to hunt. And how else would I teach my son how to hunt other than bring him with me?"

That said, he approaches parenting differently than his own father, a former US Air Force pilot who enforced strict discipline on Smith and his siblings.

"The major difference is I'm trying to release the sense of ownership," Smith said. "With our kids, Jada and I believe that it's their lives and we are helping them with their lives."

Beyond acting, Jaden learnt his father's early raps and now writes his own. While he isn't looking to replicate the one-time Fresh Prince's every move, it's clear he has internalised Dad's long-term outlook on the family business.

"If I wanted my career to be exactly like his, people would keep telling me for the rest of my life, 'Wow, you successfully pulled off your dad's career. Congratulations!'," Jaden said.

"If I was doing just what he did, my son would feel like he had to do what I did. I want my son to feel like he can be a classical pianist if he wants to."

After Earth opens here on June 7


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