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The Karate Kid - Will Smith interview

Will Smith

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PROUD dad and producer Will Smith talks to us about the remake of The Karate Kid, starring his son Jaden, and his hopes for the future.

He also talks about balancing the film’s needs as a producer with those of his son’s as a father and why he believes some child stars struggle to cope with the demands of success at an early age.

Q. How many memories does it evoke when you see your son on camera, and how do you manage to choke back the pride you must feel?
Will Smith: First of all, I don’t choke back the emotion, I boo-hoo every time I see him. It doesn’t even matter. I know it was excruciating for Jaden to be squashed, particularly between Jackie and myself… there was a real struggle for Jada and Jaden to try to keep the pressure off. It was like he’s so disciplined and so hard working that it’s hard to not push him for more. It’s like, there’s no telling what this kid could do. Jackie and I, we were having our little private meetings, how to work around Mommy, but it was such a wonderful experience and any part of that movie still chokes me up. And as far as him having pieces of me, he’s truly his own being, and he has the best of Jada and I. It’s just amazing that you can go to Mexico, drink some tequila, and then he shows up nine months later. It’s amazing [laughs].

But seriously he’s such a fantastic, disciplined young man and if there’s one thing that stands out from him and other children I’ve worked with and other children I’ve tried to assist with this journey, the one thing is he’s just a brick. He has the combination – he’s really sensitive, he’s hugely sensitive, so he can capture emotion, but as far as another take, let’s do it again, let’s go up these steps one more time [even though it’s] a six-day work week and all of that, he has the mentality it takes to bear the weight of what this type of success that this film has had is going to bring in his life.

Q. That included having his stay in China extended I believe?
Will Smith: We got toward the end of the film, and we thought it was going to be three months and it actually got extended an extra month, so we spent an extra month in China. You tell an 11-year-old who thought he was about to go home that we’ve got an extra month! You leave that one to Mommy! But he wanted to train during lunch. So, he would work the morning, and then he would go train for two hours at lunch and then go back to the set, that’s how serious and focussed he was about getting it done, that level of commitment. You’re my dog, man, you my dog.

Q. How do you balance success in your career with success in your personal lives? Does faith play its part?
Will Smith: Absolutely. For me it’s hugely important to keep reminding myself that winning at family is more important than winning at the box office, more important than winning awards. I have my 12-year-old son right now that we’ve pushed really hard to achieve, and every day I had to remind myself – well Jada had to remind me – that the family has to be first. We have to consider our family first and then the project has to be second, which is really difficult because the way that I’ve been able to create the things the way I wanted them to happen is nothing gets in the way.

I did Ali with a broken thumb, and it’s like: “Let’s just pack the glove up a little tighter!” That mentality, to me historically…..I don’t know how you win if you’re not willing to gamble everything and lose everything when you’re out there. So, it’s been a real struggle for me to find that balance, and absolutely it has to come back to faith, you have to connect to a great purpose. You have to have meaning that’s beyond today and meaning that’s beyond this project, and you have to connect to meaning that’s beyond even the family into something greater. Otherwise, obsessiveness can take over.

Q. What’s potential does Jaden have for being a big movie star, and what’s the best parental advice you’ve given him in terms of his career?
Will Smith: As far as how big he’s gotten, The Karate Kid opened and the three day box office was $56 million in the United States, which was bigger than any of my movies other than Hancock and I Am Legend. So, I’m wondering if he still needs to even live at our house! If one more person calls me The Karate Kid’s Dad… people have started calling me that, so I said: “Alright, we need to get Men In Black 3 out immediately!”

But seriously, the best advice, I guess really the thing that I would say to him, and I do very often, is that it’s about people. This business and what we do, a lot of people get lost amid a lot of other ideas but at the end of the day it’s really about people. Even in this format [press conference]. You’re all here trying to feed your families. We’re here trying to feed our families, so in this exchange I’m going to give you everything I can possibly give you to help you feed your family and hopefully in exchange you’ll help me feed mine. And if we keep it that simple, that that’s what this interaction is about, then we won’t get lost in a deadline or something that I desperately need you to write this thing that I’m saying. If we can just keep it about people and your goal is about assisting every person more than it is about getting what you want… I’ve been able to navigate in this business very effectively based on that simple idea.

Q. Are you concerned about the dangers out there for child stars? And how was it seeing Jaden hurt, as he must have been?
Will Smith: He didn’t have the shock and the radical life change that child actors usually have coming into the business. The idea is, it’s not his first red carpet, it’s a little bit of a shift because now the attention and the direction is towards him but for the most part it’s not a shock to his life. I think what happens with [a lot of] child stars, which is the most difficult element [for them], is that they become the breadwinner. So, child stars are generally broken by the pressure of being the breadwinner of a household at 14-years-old, or 16-years-old. I know at 41-years-old being the breadwinner of a household and the kind of pressure that brings.

So, when you put that onto a child and then the energy the parent has to have in interacting with the child, you almost lose your parent-child relationship. It’s almost like there’s a bit of your power that gets destroyed in that situation. So, you either have to be a dictator, because you’ve got to keep the lights on, or you’ve got to surrender. I hope that we have a bit of a handle on it where we’re focussing very closely and paying attention to his energy and his desire and his love for it. So, I’m hoping it’s okay.

Q. Is Jaden threatening to kick your ass yet as a result of gaining these new martial arts skills?
Will Smith: Well, around this age the young lions start trying to bump into you a little bit. They’re just testing you. He hasn’t made the full on attempt yet but he’s leaned his shoulder in a little bit, just to see what man meat feels like! I think it’ll be a minute before he makes the full test [laughs].

Read our review of The Karate Kid

Jaden Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith interview