There’s a Rubik’s Cube on the coffee table, not three feet from where Will Smith sits in the fifth-floor living room of his river-front home in New York City. The one-time teen star, who started his career as a rapper, then became an actor and movie producer and is now practically a one-man entertainment industry, has a simple philosophy: “I can do it.”
Smith, 38, is talking about the Cube, but that’s also the way he looks at pretty much everything. From his dad, he says, he learned to look for patterns in life, and figure out how to make them work in his favor. From his mother he learned the value of knowledge, even though he quit his formal education after high school. And from somewhere, Smith discovered an unshakable belief that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.
He is married to actress and musician Jada Pinkett Smith and the father of three children — Willard III, 13 (from his first marriage); Jaden, 8; and Willow, 6. To keep fit, he runs — perhaps the perfect pastime for a man who can never seem to slow down. Wearing jogging pants and large diamond studs in his ears, Smith sat down with Reader’s Digest to talk about his family, fame and fortune, as well as The Pursuit of Happyness (which, by the way, is the title of his new movie).
RD: You grew up in the ’70s in Philadelphia. What was your neighborhood like?
Smith: It was probably 50 percent Orthodox Jewish. One neighborhood over were all the pretty little Muslim girls. Mine was a Baptist household, and I went to a Catholic school. I was surrounded by different religions.
RD: What was your experience growing up black in this neighborhood?
Smith: My school was 90 percent white, but 90 percent of the kids I played with were black. So I got the best of both worlds. I think that is where my comedy developed. In black neighborhoods, everybody appreciated comedy about real life. In the white community, fantasy was funnier. I started looking for the jokes that were equally hilarious across the board, for totally different reasons.
RD: Is it true that at one point you were planning to go to MIT?
Smith: My mother, who worked for the School Board of Philadelphia, had a friend who was the admissions officer at MIT. I had pretty high SAT scores and they needed black kids, so I probably could have gotten in. But I had no intention of going to college.
RD: Because you got a record deal?
Smith: My first record came out while I was a senior in high school, which is dangerous. Life is too good.