By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—There’s no denying that when Will Smith enters the room, electricity fills the air.
“I feel so good, it’s almost a damn shame,” he exclaims when asked how he’s feeling.
And why shouldn’t he? The onetime Fresh Prince is now the king of Hollywood, having moved from rap singer to TV star to movie star to movie mogul. These days, he and his actress wife Jada Pinkett-Smith are carefully guiding their two offspring (Jaden, 13 and Willow, 11) as they navigate the choppy waters of Hollywood in their own budding careers. The Philadelphia-born Smith makes no apologies for his stage parenting, assuring a group of journalists at a press conference his children’s career choices are their own. He is merely imparting what he’s learned on his own road to fame to his kids so they can make the most of their talent in a positive, productive way.
After a four-year absence from the big screen—Smith has occupied himself with producing movie projects for including 2010’s “The Karate Kid” which starred his son Jaden, and the Reese Witherspoon starrer “This Means War”—Smith is back in front of the camera doing what he does best: entertaining audiences with his trademark humor and magnetic energy. He co-stars with Tommy Lee Jones for the long awaited third installment of the sc-fi action-comedy franchise “Men in Black.” The project reunites him with director Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed him and Jones in 1997’s “Men in Black” and 2002’s “Men in Black 2.”
In “Men in Black 3,” Smith reprises the role of government Agent J, who time-travels to 1969 to apprehend a criminal with the help of a much younger version of his stoic partner Agent K (Josh Brolin, in a dead-on impersonation of Lee).
The affable Smith, 43, explained his absence from the big screen, revisiting the popular franchise, raising a Hollywood dynasty and how “Star Wars” and the ’80s TV series “Dallas” impacted his life.
Front Row Features: Why revisit “MIB” now?
Smith: There has to be some message or some statement. With “Men in Black 3,” we connected to the destructive nature of secrets. Whether you get that or not, that’s what we’re displaying and then how a relationship can get repaired and go to another level through the exposure of a secret.
Front Row Features: Did you miss being onscreen for such a long time?
Smith: I’m producing my kids and my wife’s TV show and all that, and I’m loving it. That’s my most natural space in the business. I would have to say if I just fell into what was most natural for me it would be producing or editing. That’s where I thrive. But I just had to get back to work because Jaden wanted me to. I tell him all the time, “Son, I’m going to teach you everything I know and if you work hard you can be the second biggest movie star in the world.” (He laughs hard.)
Front Row Features: Do you remember how you broke the ice with Tommy Lee Jones when you first met him?
Smith: I just kissed him. Tongue kiss. (He laughs.) He responds well to that.
Front Row Features: Did he intimidate you?
Smith: Tommy Lee Jones is hilarious. I would say most like if you look at his body of work, the character he’s most like is (the one he played) in “The Fugitive.” That’s how he talks and jokes. That is the type of energy he has. But Tommy is hilarious. He’s right there in all of the jokes and playing around and everything.
Front Row Features: Have you seen him laugh?
Smith: Yeah, but he just looks different than when you crack most people up. You know you’ve scored when Tommy goes, “Hmm.” That’s a belly laugh.
Front Row Features: What did you think of Josh’s impression of Tommy Lee Jones?
Smith: With actors, there’s a chemistry thing. There’s a natural interaction that you have. So when I sat down with Josh, I was trying to find what was the adjustment that I’d have to make to be able to deliver our chemistry on camera, and I was just shocked that it’s identical, which is difficult to impossible to do. It’s like he studied Tommy and Agent K so thoroughly that the chemistry was the same. It’s not even like he’s playing young Agent K. You simply think you’re watching young Tommy Lee Jones. He’s able to deliver.
Front Row Features: A lot of actors stay away from their franchises after they reach a certain lofty point in their careers. What is it about the franchises like “Bad Boys” and “MIB” that keep you coming back?
Smith: The greatest experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater was watching “Star Wars.” It shaped how I look at the world. My imagination was so small before I went in that theater and there was an explosion in my head. I just couldn’t figure out how someone came up with it. How could they make me feel like that watching it? So, for me, there’s nothing more valuable than how people feel in a movie theater about a movie. It’s more important to me than (getting) awards.
Front Row Features: So “Star Wars” made you want to be an actor?
Smith: It was more like over the next few months after seeing it I started realizing that I can be anything. My parents really reinforced that. It just felt like the limits got knocked off after I saw that movie. It coincided right with the time that (the song) “Rappers Delight” came out. That was my introduction to rap music.
Front Row Features: What other pop culture event has most influenced your career?
Smith: As I child, I remember watching “Dallas,” and that has been my vision for my life for as long as I can remember. I was like, “That property has a name? How does a property have a name?” Ours was just row house. On that show, everybody came to breakfast and they were grown, yet they came to breakfast and everybody worked the family business. I was like, “I want that.” So I’ve been a mad scientist trying to build my own “Dallas” through “Star Wars” and rap music.
Front Row Features: Now that you’ve made another “MIB,” what other sequels are most likely to happen?
Smith: “Bad Boys 3” has a really solid idea behind it. For the most part, I’m just looking for material that resonates.
Front Row Features: Both of your children are in the industry and doing very well. What do you teach them about failure, and how you handle your own failures in the past?
Smith: The idea of failure is a label, right. It has no bearing on what actually happened. What actually happened can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you if you decide that it’s the best thing that ever happened to you. The big thing I tell my kids is you have to control how you label things. It’s very important to me they understand the power they have to create the lives that they want.
Front Row Features: You’ve got another film in the works for your son Jaden. What can you say about that?
Smith: We’re working together on a movie called “After Earth,” which is a post-apocalyptic movie. Of course, he wants to make a comedy sometime.
Front Row Features: What do you know now that you didn’t know at 18?
Smith: That I control every interaction with every human being I’m with. That a person isn’t just an a** or crazy. I can actually manage any situation with 98 percent of the people on Earth. There are some lunatics you just can’t do anything with but for the most part, you play a part in every aspect of your life going the way you want or not going the way that you want. It has very little to do with other people.