Starring in a movie alongside his boy Jaden, Will Smith tells Michele Manelis that father-son working relationships run in the blood
Nepotism reigns unapologetically supreme in the Will Smith-Jada Pinkett-Smith household. In the upcoming sci-fi thriller, After Earth, Papa Smith re-teams with son Jaden, 14, with whom he previously starred in the box office hit Pursuit of Happyness, in 2006.
This special effects-laden vehicle is directed and co-written by M. Night Shyamalan, whose films have failed to get much traction since his breakthrough The Sixth Sense. It's based on an original idea by Smith snr. Set in a future when humanity has evacuated Earth after environmental catastrophes, it's actually a story of father-son bonding against a post-apocalyptic setting. But it's not quite The Road in spacesuits.
Says Smith snr of the two lead characters: "They're in a life-or-death situation but at the same time it's a parent-teenager collision that was perfect for Jaden and I to do."
Shyamalan says: "There were the obvious advantages about them playing father and son and, interestingly, there wasn't any downside at all. They don't have a conflicting relationship; Jaden is a very easygoing guy. He looks up to his dad but he's still very much his own person. And Will, as we all know, has an incredible drive and enthusiasm. It wasn't difficult."
Much ado has been made about the Smith-Pinkett-Smith parenting style.
The eldest child, Trey, 20, who is the product of Smith's first marriage, to Sheree Zampino (from 1992-1995), has largely escaped the public eye. In contrast, the other two siblings seem to embrace it. In 2010, Jaden starred in the remake of the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, opposite Jackie Chan, in which both his parents served as producers. He also rapped on the film's theme song, Never Say Never, with Justin Bieber.
Not to be outdone, his little sister, Willow, now 12, made her film debut in her dad's sci-fi flick I Am Legend, in 2007, and in 2010 began her music career. Signed to Jay Z's label, Roc Nation, her single, Whip My Hair, was a bona fide worldwide hit.
Their ever-effusive father feels that his children entering the family business is a natural rite of passage.
"I was raised in my family's business. He would sell bags of ice to supermarkets, so we would bag the ice and deliver them together, and I learned everything I know about life through working with my father.
"We'd deliver it and then go right to the supermarket counter and buy our food. So I have a direct connection between being able to survive in the world and the lessons coming from doing actual work with your parents."
Though most movie stars will espouse grave fears about their offspring following them into the precarious world of Hollywood, Smith has an interesting viewpoint. "I don't know how to parent any other way. You need to be there every single day watching things happening, catching the moment.
"For me, the idea of shipping my kids out during those huge formative periods of their life doesn't make sense. I can't see how I can be an effective parent if I'm not with them. So yes, there are negatives that come with this business, but the positives far outweigh them."
At 14, Jaden comfortably holds court with a group of journalists, and explains the difference between them: "My dad is 100 per cent in everything he does and I'm about 70 per cent."
Cognisant of his good fortune, he says: "Because of the privileges my parents have given me I feel that I owe it to the world to use it for something amazing that's going to better help everybody in the whole world."
Understandably, it must be difficult for most teenagers his age to relate to him, and vice versa. "I don't know anybody my age except my sister. I can't hang out with people my age because I have to be with somebody who knows how to do what I can do.
"People my age will be like, 'Let's play video games.' Or they want to hang out with girls," he says, shaking his head. "I mean, I like hanging out with girls but I want to do something that's going to help our lives; I want to give something to the world so that they can make their day just a little happier. So I'll act or rap a song."
And when he's not creating a song or preparing for his next role, the pint-sized mogul-in-the-making is on to the next project.
"I have my own clothing brand, MSFtS (pronounced misfits). I have three popup stores in Asia and possibly one in London soon, too. We're partnering with S & G (Clothing) and I may do some in-store performances," he says with the casualness of a world-weary entrepreneur.
"When it comes to fashion I get my inspiration from all different places, but in Europe mostly. I mean, let's be real," he says. "All Americans jacked all of their style from Europe. We take what they're making and then we make it in the US.
"You know what I'm saying? That's just what happens.
"So, I try to go inward and think, 'What would I want to wear if I was a skater,' and 'How can I make it the cheapest way?' My idea of style is giving skaters something to wear so they can look high-fashion but keep the product cheap so they can look really cool."
It might be confounding as to how a parent might discipline a child in Jaden's position. It's not surprising his parents' methods may veer from the norm.
"There's nothing in my life where Dad says, 'You need to be in bed by a certain time or things like that.' I know the consequences if I don't have enough sleep. He just says, 'You need to be educated. That's all you need to do for me. Go to school, and survive'."
Who: Will and Jaden Smith
What: After Earth
When: Opens June 13