In this May 16 photo, Will Smith, left, and Jaden Smith attend “After Earth” Day at the Miami Science Museum in Miami, Fla. The film, “After Earth,” opens May 31 in the US, and is set in a future where nature has turned on humans and survivors were forced to start a new civilization on another planet. Jaden plays a trainee trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, a famous military leader played by Smith. (Photo by Jeff Daly/Invision/AP, File)
by Ryan Pearson
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (AP) — 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,” opening Friday. Even in the midst of a globe-hopping promotional tour for the movie, Smith recognizes the downside to making stardom a family affair.
“I think that the major risk of this particular business is strictly emotional,” he said in a recent interview. “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 (Pinkett Smith) 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.”
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 loudly drops a water bottle during a TV interview, he’s quickly reprimanded: “You’re kidding, right? You’re kidding. 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 humor, 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 civilization 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 co-starred together in 2006’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Smith produced his son’s hit 2010 remake of “The Karate Kid” with Jackie Chan, which made over $350 million worldwide. (Smith’s last movie, last summer’s “Men In Black 3,” earned over $600 million globally.)