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.
So far he has. At age 12, he began performing rap music at parties in his hometown of Philadelphia. By
the time he was 20, his upbeat lyrics had translated into seven Billboard hits and won him a Grammy.
At 21, Smith moved to Hollywood and landed a starring role on the hit TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,
then went on to pursue his dream of becoming a movie star. Films like Independence Day, Enemy of the State
and Ali, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, proved that, yes, Will Smith can do it.
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.