Big Willie Style

Will Smith is ready to rip on politics, conspiracy, cruel comedy, gangsta rap, ghetto love, and Bill and Monica

December 10, 1998
Will Smith on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Will Smith on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Mark Seliger

It is 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and Will Smith is standing in his kitchen, seizing the day. Since he has suggested that I seize it with him, we are conferring with his cook about eggs: his scrambled, my omelette, our turkey bacon. Smith, who has just risen, is wearing khaki sweat pants and a sleeveless white T-shirt that shows the kind of firm muscles that look more natural than pumped. (I checked: He pumps.)

Getting from Los Angeles to Smith's home, near Ventura County, is more than an hour's drive. The man who has conquered Hollywood feels no need to live there. Instead, he and his new wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, have set up temporary shop in Smith's former bachelor pad, a comfortable, unpretentious, sprawling affair now strewn with the flotsam of being married with children: toys, a baby carriage, scads of family photos. One, sitting on the bar in the media room, stands out: It's the birth announcement for Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Will's second child (and second son), born on July 8th and weighing seven pounds, one ounce. A couple of hours later, Jaden himself appears, fresh from his bath and lounging in his mother's arms. He is now thirteen pounds of adorable contentment: a head full of soft black curls, an alarmingly sensual mouth, a pair of green-golden eyes that latch onto yours and stick. If a three-month-old can summon up a come-hither look, this is it.

Leading Men on the Cover of Rolling Stone

Will Smith loves being a daddy almost as much as he loves his wife, a twenty-seven-year-old star (Scream 2) with her own burgeoning career. When the two married last December in Baltimore, Pinkett's hometown, they gave each other away, walking arm in arm up the aisle – a symbol of the equality of their relationship.

"When I came to Hollywood, I planned on being the biggest star," says Pinkett, "but when I got with Will, I said, 'I'm going to have to compromise, because he's not going to. That's not even a discussion.' So I had to ask myself, 'Is career more important than having a good man who loves you and will provide a happy family?' I choose Will. So now my work gets forty percent. [ can still have a career. I just won't have the one I planned on. That will not happen. I put my family first."

Pinkett pauses. "We have this African sculpture someone gave us," she continues, "that's the signature of our relationship. It's the head of a man – big, out there, dominant – and sitting regally on top of his head, in a chair, is this little woman." She laughs. "It's OK that the man is in the forefront, because we know who's really on top of the show."

Their bond is as clearly defined as the difference in their sizes – he is six feet two inches, she is barely five feet. That, however, is the only thing small about Pinkett, whose whopper of a personality makes her a force in the intense, passionate conversations that fuel their union.

Take this exchange between Mr. and Mrs. Smith about Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. "Bill and Hill sent us a congrats note for Jaden," says Pinkett, who volunteers that she and Tracey Edmonds, Babyface's wife, helped persuade their husbands to turn down a White House request to host a fund-raiser for the president. Nevertheless, she remains a Clinton supporter.

JADA: Bill never said, "'I'm a perfect guy." He came in with flaws. We knew.

WILL: Every step of the way, it's pissing me off. Take Monica Lewinsky. What kind of Woman keeps a dress like that?

JADA: I know why she kept it: low self-esteem. It might seem disgusting to you, but she has this blue dress that's got the semen of the president on it.

WILL: Oh, come on!

JADA: Baby, I'm telling you how women think who are not very secure. Monica's a big girl, always been promiscuous. She ain't got no real father. It's even lack of self-esteem on Bill's part. For him to mess with the kind of women he has been with . . . there's something lacking in Bill, too.

WILL: Yeah, but the president sitting and gracefully fielding bizarre questions from intellectually barren inquisitors who talked to him as if he were Joe off the street? "Hey, man, that's the president. Rephrase your fucking question." The president should be exempt from having to answer questions from some dickhead prosecutor about a cigar.

JADA: It's a witch hunt. All the women who know their husbands are sleeping with their secretaries think this is their chance to say, "Bad man." And all the men who've done wrong think, "This is my chance to clear my spirit." I want to say, "Everybody, look in your own back yard. We all got dirt."

WILL: I look at Bill Clinton the way I look at Bill Gates. As long as my Microsoft stock is going up [laughs], I don't care what Bill Gates does in the privacy of his own home. Look, whoever the president is, I'm a citizen, and I'm down with him. The way I was raised, you deal with that stuff within the family.

Family is a crucial word in Smith's vocabulary. If Pinkett believes this will be her only marriage, Smith says he knows it will be his last. His first marriage – in 1992, to Sheree Zampino – ended in divorce after producing Willard Smith Ill, or Trey, now five years old. Smith learned about the complications of divorce at thirteen, when his own parents split up. The son of Will Smith Sr., an Air Force veteran who now runs his own refrigeration company, and Caroline Smith, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon who worked for the Philadelphia School Board, Smith grew up in Philadelphia, one of four children. ("Every time we hang out with the Wayanses -- there's ten of them – Will comes home wanting a basketball team," says a cautious Pinkett. "I can see three of our own and Trey.")

Smith was only twelve when he hooked up with Jeff Townes to form DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, a rap duo whose clean, gangsta-free music garnered the two their first album deal when Smith was seventeen. Passing on college, Smith hit the road with Townes, topping the charts with such hits as "Parents Just Don't Understand."

At twenty-one, Smith – with no acting training – took on television as the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a hit sitcom that ran for six seasons on NBC. At twenty-five, Smith won his first starring role in a movie – in a drama, yet -playing a bisexual hustler of rich white folks in Six Degrees of Separation. Great reviews; small audiences. After that, Smith turned his more comic side to the cameras in a trio of blockbusters – Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men in Black – that shot his salary into the $20 million stratosphere occupied by the likes of Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise.

Now, with his box-office clout at a peak and his latest album, Big Willie Style, his biggest seller, Smith is getting serious about serious acting again. He co-stars in Enemy of the State, a thriller that casts Smith as a labor lawyer caught in a dangerous web of spies, mobsters and National Security agents. And when he finishes the comic western Wild, Wild West for Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld, Smith will most likely portray Muhammad Ali in Sonnenfeld's Power and Grace.

Not bad for a big-eared kid from Philly whose rap got rapped for being too white-bread. In fact, the surprising thing about Smith today – he turned thirty on September 25th – is how street he is. "Will was far grittier, more ghetto, than I expected," says a smiling Pinkett, who thinks her husband's ambitions might one day take this Mr. Smith to Washington. "I can see him being a force in politics – he's so passionate about it. And if he wanted to run for president, I'd be scared to death – about assassination – but I'd definitely be on the front lines with him. Whatever he wants to do, I'm there."

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