A fam­ily busi­ness

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Sound fa­mil­iar?

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

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