A family business
Will Smith admits his new film After Earth may not reach the lofty heights of some of his other flicks – but starring alongside son Jaden makes it all worthwhile, writes Neala Johnson.
THE last time Jaden Smith made a movie, rebooting The Karate Kid in Beijing as a 10- year- old, Jada Pinkett Smith and husband Will Smith were on set every day as parents and producers.
While Jada kept an eye on her son’s workload, Will drove the boy to his limits.
“At any given moment, Jaden had his father pushing and his mother protecting,” Will said.
When Jaden next stepped on set as a 13- year- old, Will decided Jada’s protective hand was no longer needed.
“For After Earth I was like, ‘ Babe, he’s 13, give us a few weeks, let us go, I’m teaching him how to hunt’,” Will said, unleashing his famous laugh.
So the two set off for the wilds of Costa Rica to shoot a story Will dreamed up specifically so father and son could work together.
Was there any chance Jaden wouldn’t want to do it?
“No,” Jaden said. “Anything he makes, I know he really thinks about it.
“He’s preparing a movie now that he’s been preparing for three years and that probably won’t come out for another three years. So I always know that if he’s doing it, it’s going to be awesome.”
Besides, it wasn’t exactly a terrible idea, given their first screen union in The Pursuit of Happyness resulted in an Oscar nomination for Will, while Jaden’s relatively low- budget The Karate Kid pulled in $ 372 million worldwide.
But Will is trying not to factor in awards and the box office when it comes to After Earth. At 44, he said, he is going through a “transitional period”.
At the core of this transition is shifting the balance from “external achievement and accomplishment” to “connection and relationship”, which is exemplified in After Earth, as Will tried to focus more on being a father and bonding with Jaden than making a guaranteed smash- hit film.
“That was a devastating shift for me to have to get to the end of a day and look at Jaden and see he’s exhausted and say, ‘ That’s enough, let’s go’. Inside, I’m like, ‘ Well, wait, we have … no, he’s done’. And I’m dying inside,” Will said, laughing.
Little wonder Jaden points to his father’s drive as both his best and worst quality. And when Will hears that, he nods in agreement.
“I don’t even know where I heard this quote, but it’s very indicative of me: ‘ There are a lot of people who like to win, but beware of the guy who hates to lose’ – I’m a guy who hates to lose. There’s an extra level of obsession with the guy who hates to lose versus the guy who likes to win.
“I’m really trying to open myself up to other ‘ wins’ in the process. For example, I’ve slightly released the idea of After Earth having to be a No. 1 global hit movie. I’m coming down off that and I’m coming to the space where my relationship with Jaden has evolved so much during this process that I’ve already won, no matter what it does at the box office.”
In After Earth, Will also cedes some movie star territory to Jaden, letting the teenager have most of the hero moments.
Will, who worked closely on the script with writer- director M. Night Shyamalan, plays Cypher Raige, a revered general commander in a futuristic space corps. The movie is set about 200 years after mankind has had to depart Earth in search of more liveable planets.
Cypher’s son, Kitai ( Jaden), is a cadet ranger struggling to emerge from his father’s shadow.
Will calls this a “full character performance” – he modified his voice and doesn’t get to display the charm that is all over, say, Men In Black.
When Cypher gets trapped in the crashed spacecraft, Kitai must save the day.
“Jaden got to do most of the cool stuff,” Will said. “I tell him, ‘ Listen, you got to do the cool scene jumping off the cliff with the bird chasing you and all of that … just don’t forget that I’m getting paid more money’.
“But as a parent, it’s really great because I’m actually teaching my son how to do what I do.
“I was raised in my family business – this is the way my father taught me, not in movies, but we delivered ice – so I grew up learning about working to feed the family.
“This has been the best opportunity to take my son and walk him through every moment of making and selling a film.
“It’s the thing I do best in the world. He gets to see me in my best light and I get to stop and say, ‘ Did you notice that? Do you know what this means?’
“The pros far outweigh the cons.”
AFTER EARTH Now showing at Village Cinemas