Jada Pinkett Smith: How the Leading Lady Stays on Top

Words by Amir Shaw
Images courtesy of DreamWorks

Family first and everything else will follow. Jada Pinkett Smith understands the importance of living by that creed while dealing with the unforgiving spotlight that comes with being the matriarch of Hollywood’s first family.

Jada Pinkett Smith’s 14-year marriage to Will Smith has given us a vision of a real-life fairy tale. It’s a union of two of Tinseltown’s most successful actors who happen to have two adorable kids who have become stars in their own right.

Indeed, it’s the stuff that award-winning scripts are made of.

But Hollywood has a way of making us believe that a story isn’t complete without drama or dissension — thus the Smiths have faced endless rumors regarding the stability of their marriage.
Recently, media outlets across the nation have reported that Jada and Will are on the verge of filing for divorce. Jada vehemently refuted the claim. “Every year, one celebrity couple is under the microscope. This year, unluckily, it’s us! I almost want to say that we should have been expecting it. These rumors are completely untrue,” she said.
While juggling life as a mom, wife and actor and musician, Pinkett Smith simply doesn’t have time to pay attention to outsiders’ opinions of her marriage.
She will voice Gloria in the new 3-D animated film, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

While at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria in New York, Pinkett Smith shared her thoughts on the challenge of doing film without actors, the joys of watching her kids follow their dreams, and keeping her family’s priorities in line. Listen in:

The “Red Table Talks” video with your mother and Willow was a huge viral hit. Why was it important for you to be open about your family issues? Will there be another installment?
A couple of people want to make it a TV show. We’re trying to figure that out and there are also a few deals for an online show. I want to do both [TV and online]. There will be more episodes. The other day, I posted a question on Facebook about what issues people would want to discuss and who they would want to see on the “Red Table Talks.” I didn’t expect it to take off like it did. It started off as a gift to my daughter. People would ask me, “How do you talk to Willow and communicate as a family.” Willow didn’t know my mother’s story and what my mom and I have been through together. It was using myself as an example of how great communication can be if you’re honest. It’s something we used to do as a family. It’s something we all have to get back to.

Willow and Jaden have experienced a good deal of success at a young age. How does it feel to see their growth in entertainment?

It makes me feel very proud. It goes beyond the notoriety of fame. [It’s great] just being able to watch your child do the things that they want to do. Because at the end of the day, I’m not sure how they’re gonna flow with this. I don’t know if they will be in entertainment forever. But it’s something they’re enjoying right now. As a parent, it’s good to see them become what they dream of being.

Your family is a role model. In a sense, you guys are like Hollywood’s version of the Obamas. In what ways do you relate to Michelle Obama?
First off, for America in general, it wasn’t just black Americans who elected President Obama. As a community, we still have issues of racism, but it shows that this country is ready for change. Michelle is one of my favorite women on the planet because of what it takes to do what she does. A lot of times, women in her position don’t get recognized for what it takes to be a woman at that level. Every woman has to hold the family down, every woman holds a man down. That’s a lot to hold down. A lot of responsibility falls on Michelle. I have a lot of respect for them as a family and who they have to be as a family. … They represent the way people all over the world see Americans. And for us to have a black American family [in a leadership position], is amazing.

How can mothers who have careers handle their work responsibilites and their parental duties without one or the other suffering?

My key is to pay attention to what you need. You have to look at your own situation and be very real about what works for you. I believe a woman’s happiness has to cater to her own needs. There isn’t one model. All of us are unique individuals that need very unique things to be happy. You have to be honest with yourself and take responsibility.

What can moviegoers expect from your new film, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted?

The first thing that I noticed was that it was aesthetically stunning. It’s very beautiful to look at. The themes are always hilarious. It’s about love, family, friendship and finding home. I think animations now age up because of the themes. You’re not looked at as being uncool if you go to the movies to watch an animation film. I think it’s a great date movie as well as a great family film. If you want to go and have a good time and chill, it’s a good movie to take your date to [laughs].

You usually get to exchange and play off other actors. But it’s different in animation. How difficult was it to perform without being able to see what the character is experiencing?
You’re not with the other actors and you’re not in the scene. You’re not in costume. It’s just you and a microphone. Every aspect must come from your imagination. With me, that was the most challenging part. I’m not sure if it was as challenging for Chris Rock, Ben Stiller and Cedric The Entertainer because they all came from the stand-up comedy world and they’re used to performing on stage with only a mic. But for me, I started to get into the swing of things this installment. I finally got the hang of it.

How did you make the adjustment?

I was a little lost because you have a director telling you, “Jada, you’re coming down a tube that’s going to end up on a table.” So I would have to imagine what that would look like. We don’t get to see the film before we read the script. It’s just words. The first time I got a chance to see visuals was when the project was finished.

How do you find solace?
I find solace in my music. … I do it for the love of it. June 19, I will release more music. It will be more conscious and I will stand behind social issues. My music is my freedom space.

A.R. Shaw is an author and journalist who documents culture, politics, and entertainment. He has covered The Obama White House, the summer Olympics in London, and currently serves as Lifestyle Editor for Rolling Out magazine. Follow his journey on Twitter @arshaw and Instagram @arshaw23.

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