Image: Facebook/After Earth

When Will Smith was asked about his regrets in his long and successful career, one thing stood out. Yes, there was one failure that had led him to examine himself and how he approached things in general. And the reason for it being particularly painful had a lot to do with his son Jaden. In fact, Smith’s distress revealed a lot about how he feels about his kids overall.

Image: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

To begin with, Smith has an unorthodox perspective on raising kids. Indeed, he’s noted that he never really practised control over his children and didn’t tell them off for making the wrong choices. Instead, he wanted them to live their lives by pursuing the course that they’d decided.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Epsilon/Getty Images

Now, that approach to parenting has had its downsides, as Smith found out when Jaden wanted to live separately from his parents at the age of 14. In fact, he wanted to move out from the parental home and purchase his own residence. To do this, he asked his dad to give him emancipation as a 15th birthday present.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

But this doesn’t mean that the two aren’t close. Reportedly, Smith maintains good relations with his children. And he demonstrated that when he appeared on stage with Jaden to perform during a tour in November 2019. Smith told the crowd, “You know I had to show up for Philly.”

Image: alex grichenko

Indeed, Smith is a native of Philadelphia. And he’s come a long way from West Philly to superstardom. You see, his acting chops have seen him nominated for Golden Globes five times and Oscars twice. And his songsmithing has gained him five Grammys. Furthermore, he’s been considered the world’s surest bet at the box office, with most of his films taking more than $100 million and five topping $500 million.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Harry Langdon/Getty Images 

But Smith first appeared in the limelight when he had some success in the world of rap. In fact, he performed under his name, The Fresh Prince, which led to him starring in comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, on NBC. And he went on to star in many blockbuster films, including eight in a row opening on top of the U.S. box office.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via IMDb

The Fresh Prince’s first big film role was in Six Degrees of Separation in 1993. But 1995’s Bad Boys was his first big success. However, he was next in 1996’s Independence Day, which was an enormous hit, becoming the second-biggest grossing film ever.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

And it seemed that Smith couldn’t miss, hitting again with Men In Black, a critical and box-office success. After a change of pace in Enemy of the State, he returned to comedy in Wild Wild West. Now, he considered that a “mistake,” which “could have been better,” and audiences agreed, although it did make money.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via IMDb

As an actor, Smith soon bounced back. In 2001 he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Ali. And the 2000s saw him combine movie and pop success. You see, his albums proved popular throughout the decade, with 2005’s Lost and Found entering the Billboard top ten.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Claire Greenway/Getty Images

For the 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness Smith appeared alongside son Jaden. And their partnership met with acclaim, with both their performances gaining accolades from the critics. Father and son would repeat the dose in 2013 with After Earth, but this time the result was not as well received.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/After Earth

After Earth was a tale spun out of an idea that Smith had had himself. But something went awry because the finished product certainly didn’t satisfy audiences. You see, it was not a box-office success, making only $60 million in the United States from a $130 million budget. And while the global cinema audience helped it turn some profit, the critics slammed the film with glee.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/After Earth

Critic for The Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern asked whether it was “the worst movie ever made.” His counterpart at The New York Times, Manohla Dargis, thought it no better than a “vanity project.” Meanwhile, Betsy Sharkey, writing for the Los Angeles Times, claimed Smith himself had disappointed, and the script had a dearth of “nuance.” Worse was to come.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/After Earth

For you see, some of the worst reviews were given to Jaden. For instance, United Kingdom newspaper The Guardian was scathing about an “uncompromisingly terrible film.” And reviewer Peter Bradshaw added that Jaden “plays the role throughout with a face like a smacked bum.” If that wasn’t enough, he went on to say that the youngster had displayed “[no] acting talent of any sort.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Europa Press/Europa Press via Getty Images

No doubt Smith had to lick his wounds after that hammering, and it may have helped that he has a strong family situation. In fact, wife Jada Pinkett Smith once auditioned for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and although Smith didn’t meet her then, when he did later, his heart was captured. Soon they were married with a baby on the way.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Donna Ward/Getty Images

And the child would be Smith’s second, as he has another son, Trey – from a previous marriage. While the pair are still together, it hasn’t always been plain sailing, as you’d expect. But Smith and Pinkett Smith have persisted and stayed a unit. And according to The Oprah Magazine they’re “incredible parents” to their three kids.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for The Environmental Media Association

Smith’s youngest is his daughter Willow, born in 2000. A multi talented performer, she started acting at the age of six alongside her dad in I Am Legend. And she gained a lot of notice when she released the single “Whip My Hair,” which was a smash hit, backed by a video that also gathered plaudits.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Rich Fury/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Jaden, who was born in 1998, was largely taught at home by his parents. The celebrity lifestyle and having a famous mom and dad left him with a somewhat lonely and unconventional childhood, which he’s had plenty to say about since. In any case, and as we’ve briefly alluded to already, he’s starred in a number of successful films from a young age.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Yes, Jaden’s first big role was in The Pursuit of Happyness where his portrayal of Christopher brought him praise. That success kicked off a career that saw him in varied roles, including remakes of The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Karate Kid. In fact, everything was going well until he appeared in After Earth.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/willowsmith

Although both Jaden and Willow had tasted success, it hadn’t come cost free. You see, Willow explained to her mom on the latter’s Facebook show in 2018 that her dad had been tough during her “Whip My Hair” success. She said, “It was mostly daddy because he was so harsh at times.” And she added that it had taken a couple years to get over it.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images

Willow went on to explain to her mom why she had found her dad pushing her so painful. She said, “And I had to forgive myself because I felt guilty because everyone is trying to make me better, trying to make my dream. But I didn’t really understand what my dream entailed.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/willowsmith 

The young star continued to Red Table Talk, “It was a couple of years, honestly. Trying to regain trust for not feeling like I was being listened to or like no one cared how I felt.” And on top of parental pressure, of course Willow and her brother have faced their share of online abuse, as Smith discussed with Esquire magazine in 2015.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Indeed, the Men In Black star claimed his children were well used to the criticism that they faced online. He told Esquire, “With this generation of kids growing up, the technological battering is almost the norm. They generally avoid the stuff. They’re really well-adjusted around this business and understanding the nature of having to take a battering.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Web Summit/CC BY 2.0

Smith continued, “Willow had one moment. The Young Turks (TYT) are Willow’s idol. They have a TV show online. They’re like a really powerful group of young writers, hosts, and political commentators…and that was the only moment I saw her cry.” Smith appeared to refer to a TYT episode which laughed at some of the responses his children had given in an interview to The New York Times.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Harrywad/CC BY-SA 3.0

And it wasn’t just Willow who could handle the downside of the celebrity life, as Smith explained. He told Esquire, “And Jaden understands that that’s a part of this business. If he wants to do it, there’s a certain amount of battery that you have to be willing to live through.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Perhaps the children’s seemingly thick skin had been bolstered by their dad’s attitude to weathering the storms. He said, “We have a quote that I put up in the house from Pema Chödrön, ‘Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.’ We call it leaning into the sharp parts.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Smith explained that philosophy a little more, saying, “Something hurts, lean in. You just lean into that point until it loses its power over you. There’s a certain amount of suffering that you have to be willing to sustain if you want to have a good life. And the trick is to be able to sustain it with your heart open and still be loving. That is the real trick.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images

The A-lister revealed to Esquire that he had shifted from being goal oriented to being on the path that he was now taking. He said, “Right now my mind’s not drifting to past interviews that didn’t go right or in the future, I hope – nothing. It’s right here, right now. The only thing that exists in this world right now is me and you.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect/Getty Images

The Esquire interviewer responded by asking Smith about a quote that had guided him. He explained that he’d heard it from Daphne Maxwell Reid, who had played Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And the quote? “Don’t let success go to your head and failure go to your heart.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

And Smith explained that that homily had really helped him get through the huge downswing that he’d suffered with film After Earth. He said, “That was a valuable lesson for me a few years ago with After Earth. That was the most painful failure in my career.” One thing in particular had made the experience even worse.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Facebook/After Earth

Indeed, Smith said that the involvement of Jaden in the flick had made it much more painful. He said, “Wild Wild West was less painful than After Earth because my son was involved in After Earth, and I led him into it. That was excruciating.” From there, the A-lister went on to examine some of his own issues concerning success.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Jennifer Graylock/FilmMagic/Getty Images

As he explained during the Esquire interview, “What I learned from that failure is how you win. I got reinvigorated after the failure of After Earth. I stopped working for a year and a half. I had to dive into why it was so important for me to have number-one movies.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Fresh Prince continued, “And I never would have looked at myself in that way. I was a guy who, when I was 15, my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me. All I have to do is make sure that no one’s ever better than me, and I’ll have the love that my heart yearns for.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

What partly woke Smith up to that personal revelation was receiving some shocking news during the fallout of After Earth. He said, “After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday, and I was devastated for about 24 minutes, and then my phone rang, and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective – viciously.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Smith explained what he had done next. He said, “And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about 90 minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

So the superstar decided that constantly striving “to win” wasn’t enough – or even necessarily healthy. He said, “The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love.” And from then on, he stopped being motivated by trying to win, and focused on, “wanting to have the most powerful, deep and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

And the actor recognized that his striving had left him a bit short as a person. He said, “As a parent, as a husband, as an actor, just as a human being, I suck a lot. You know, I suck so much more than I’ve thought that I should at 46… I don’t mind not being where I’m going, but I hate not knowing where I should be going.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Michael Stewart/WireImage/Getty Images

With that, Smith expressed admiration for Jaden, who he said was not a “slave to money.” Indeed, he explained that the youngster, then 16, only had a single pair of shoes. Given that Jaden has a reputation as something of a clothes horse, it may have been surprising that his dad claimed he only had three pairs of pants and a handful of shirts.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Pietro D’Aprano/Getty Images

As for Jaden, he moved on from the debacle of After Earth to plow his own, quite different furrow. Yes, he became acknowledged as an important figure in the LGBTQ+ world. For you see, he maintains an androgynous appearance, as he challenges the norms of gender that we’re familiar with.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Instagram/msftsrep

What’s more, in 2016 Jaden debuted his own line of clothes that reflect his gender fluid identity. He said to Variety magazine that the line, called MSFTSrep, was for “the girl that wants to be a tomboy or the boy that wants to wear a skirt.” And Jaden is more than capable of modeling both looks.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images

The willingness to display a genderqueer aesthetic has made Jaden famous in a whole new way. Sometimes that has brought the online bashing that his dad mentioned, but Jaden is unbowed. He told Nylon magazine, “You just have to believe in yourself, you know. The world is going to keep bashing me for whatever I do and I’m going to keep not caring.”

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT