Interviews


Will Smith


Occupation: Actor, Rapper
Date of Birth: September 25, 1968
Place of Birth: Philadelphia, Pa., USA
Sign: Sun in Libra, Moon in Scorpio
Relations: Wife: Jada Pinkett Smith (actress); ex-wife: Sheree Zampino; son: Willard C. Smith III (with Zampino), Jaden Christopher Syre Smith (with Pinkett)
Education: Overbrook High School

 

WILL SMITH earned the nickname "Prince" from his grade-school teachers because this smooth-talking tyke from West Philadelphia was more charming than any monarch's son. Smith completed his nom de rap by tacking on "fresh" (a popular hip-hop adjective of the mid-'80s), and the Fresh Prince tapped his considerable charisma to become a Grammy-winning musician, the star of a long-running sitcom, and  returning to his birth name  a big-screen action hero.

A born entertainer, Smith started rapping at the age of 12 and shortly thereafter teamed up with Jeff Townes, who, as Jazzy Jeff, became the Fresh Prince's musical partner. Eight years later, the duo had produced two platinum albums, including the Grammy-winning He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper. It featured the crossover hit single "Parents Just Don't Understand" and scads of clever, gangsta-free lyrics that elicited knowing chuckles from middle-American teenagers. With musical success achieved, Smith expressed a desire to try acting to several business associates, including Warner Bros. executive Benny Medina. It turned out that Medina, who was born poor in Los Angeles but lived as a teen with a rich Beverly Hills family, had been unsuccessfully pitching a sitcom based on his demographically diverse life. Smith would be perfect, Medina figured, as the protagonist in this fish-out-of-water-tale  a modern Beverly Hillbillies. According to Hollywood legend, Smith read the script for NBC's suits with such Úlan that they bought the concept on the spot. Fresh Prince of Bel Air premiered in 1990, and with its well-timed quips and pratfalls from Smith, the successful show stayed on the air for six years.

Despite his homeboy swagger, Smith himself grew up middle class (his father is an engineer; his mother works for the school board) and did so well in school that M.I.T. offered him a scholarship, which he refused in order to pursue a show-business career. A millionaire by age 18, Smith was nonetheless deeply indebted to the I.R.S. when he landed the sitcom. Produced by Quincy Jones, the series' success enabled Smith to not only remedy his I.O.U.s, but also establish a well-connected professional family, which includes much of Hollywood's African-American royalty: Jones, Bill Cosby,Whoopi Goldberg Sidney Poitier , and Denzel Washington. In fact, it was Washington who counselled Smith on how to proceed with his first starring movie role, as a young gay con man in Six Degrees of Separation (1993). Although it was scripted that his character would kiss another man, Smith was reluctant. He sought counsel from Washington, whose advice boiled down to, "Don't be kissing no man." Smith informed the furious director, Fred Schepsi, that the homosexual smooch would have to be faked. When the movie opened, the controversy was smoothed over by critical praise for Smith's performance.

For his follow-up flick, Smith teamed with fellow sitcom star Martin Lawrence in the action-heavy, gay-kiss-free Bad Boys (1995). The buddy movie was a smash, Smith's asking price rose to $5 million per film, and offers poured in. He opted to play a heroic fighter pilot in the surefire blockbuster Independence Day (1996). Sadly, as the actor's stardom was growing, his three-year-old marriage to Sheree Zampino was falling apart. The couple divorced in December 1995, and Smith relinquished primary custody of their son Willard C. "Trey" Smith III.

Smith simultaneously returned to rapping and the sci-fi genre with the 1997 summer blockbuster Men in Black. The success of his "Men In Black" single seemed to inspire him: after wrapping the film, Smith ducked into the studio to lay down tracks for a new record. Big Willie Style, his first album in four years landed on record-store shelves in November 1997. Smith and longtime love Jada Pinkett capped off the year with a New Year's Eve wedding ceremony. The couple welcomed their first child, a son named Jaden Christopher Syre, the following summer.

The actor-singer's popularity soared to new heights when he and his wife were the subjects of a Barbara Walters interview following the 1998 Academy Awards. In the course of the interview, Smith revealed his own paranoia about the government, endearing him to conspiracy theorists around the nation. Later that same year, he won the Best Rap Solo Performance Grammy for the Men in Black soundtrack. His solo album fared well on the award front, as well. He took home top honors in two categories at the September 1998 MTV Music Video Awards: Best Male Video for "Just the Two of Us" (which he accepted while carrying son Trey) and Best Rap Video for "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It." He finished out 1998 by taking on nasty, identity-besmirching government conspirators in Enemy of the State, the project he wisely chose over Nicolas Cage's Snake Eyes.

January 1999's American Music Awards saw Smith scoop up trophies for three of the four categories he was nominated in: Favorite Male Artist, Favorite Album, and Favorite Male Soul/R&B Artist, losing only in the Favorite Male Pop/Rock Artist category to Eric Clapton. In February his "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" snagged the Best Rap Solo Performance Grammy. Summer witnessed the release of Wild Wild West, another collaboration with Barry Sonnenfeld (who directed Smith in Men in Black) that paired him in Western-themed comedy with Kevin Kline. The cross-platform entertainer proved his Y2K-compliancy late in the year with the release of the pleasing party disc Willennium, which boasted an impressive lineup of guest artists, including wife Jada.

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