Will Smith: Jaden Has “One Pair Of Shoes,” Refuses To Be “Slave To Money”

Truth rating: 10
Will Smith Esquire

By Daniel Gates

Will Smith Esquire

(Getty Images)

Will Smith reveals that despite his massive wealth, his son Jaden has only one pair of shoes and has basically rejected material possessions in a wide-ranging new Esquire interview. The actor also talks about his biggest failure, gun culture, his “psychotic” work ethic, and the best part about being famous.

As for his biggest professional disappointment, Smith cites the movie he made with Jaden. “Wild Wild West was less painful than After Earth because my son was involved in After Earth and I led him into it,” he explains. “That was excruciating. 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. And I never would have looked at myself in that way.”

Smith continues, “I was a guy who, when I was fifteen 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. And I never released that and moved into a mature way of looking at the world and my artistry and love until the failure of After Earth, when I had to accept that it’s not a good source of creation.”

Personal tragedy also played a role in putting his professional failure in context. “After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer,” recalls Smith. “That put it in perspective — viciously.”

“And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about ninety minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love,” says Smith. “And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”

Among those relationships are those he has with Jaden and daughter Willow, both of whom have been criticized in the media as teenage stars. Smith thinks some of the backlash and jabs are constructive. He explains, “We call it leaning into the sharp parts. 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.”

Jaden, it seems, has not allowed himself to be consumed by consumer culture, despite his family’s wealth. Smith says his son has “one pair of shoes… He has three pairs of pants and he has five shirts.” Total? “Total. He has refused to be a slave to money. I so respect that,” explains the actor. “The younger generation is less of an ownership generation, anyway.”

He goes on to say, “And it’s such an interesting thing to watch, because I came from a middle-class background, but, you know, our lights and gas would be cut off from not paying the bill. I grew up in a house where you would need the kerosene heaters in the winter in case the bills didn’t get paid. And he’s from the complete other end of the spectrum. And it’s so interesting to me that from growing up in that space, he could see the need for things in a way that he’s rejecting. He’s like, ‘I’m not gonna let myself need things in that way’ — but I would like him to get another pair of shoes.”

Smith also has had to learn that his children don’t necessarily share his “psychotic” but “enjoyable” work ethic. “I had to make the transition into accepting that everybody doesn’t want to do that,” he says. “My kids taught me to redefine love. Before 2010, I had a vision. I saw a family in my mind that I wanted to have. And I was pushing and driving hard for my picture, and then I realized everyone has their own journey. I have to support what they want to do. I have to support the vision that they have for themselves, not my vision.”

He tells Esquire, “That was excruciating for me. That was excruciating because I’m military-minded. And to have to back up off of the masculine in that way, to have to embrace a more gentle, understanding, loving, and caring side — that was a tough transition for me.”

Smith is asked about Ferguson and the tumultuous year for American race relations. He says it’s been difficult to figure out his “position in the struggle” and how to be helpful. But the actor does add, “I think there’s actually a deeper issue at play that America is going to have to face. What we’re really talking about in this issue is people walking around the street with guns that can make a decision whether or not they’re going to kill someone, right? And that’s even more difficult, because there’s really no way back from that.”

“This is a gun culture. And it’s painful for me, because I cannot figure out how to be helpful,” says Smith. “I’ve always been telling my sons, We have to separate fault from responsibility — whose fault it is that black men are in this situation, whose fault it is doesn’t matter. It’s our responsibility to make it go right. It’s our responsibility. It’s a lot of people’s fault, systemic racism, and it’s a lot of people’s fault that the black community is in the situation that we’re in, but it’s our responsibility to clean up the mess.”

As one of the most recognizable people on the planet, Smith almost has superpowers just walking around. He explains, “Being famous is such a gift for me because small things make people’s lives brighter. You just shake somebody’s hand. You just smile and write your name and people will talk about it for the rest of their lives.”

Overall, he seems to be in a good place: “I have fun. I enjoy my life. And I was hardwired for a deep connection between service, God, and happiness. You kind of need all of those things to be in play for one to have the others.”

Not that Smith is satisfied. He says, “I always thought there was some place I was going, that there was some success or some achievement or some box-office number that was going to fill the hole. And what I realize is that life is a hole. It’s a process of continually trying to find and reinvent myself.”

“I’m the type of person who is always going to be somewhat dissatisfied with myself. I’m never going to be smart enough,” explains Smith. “I’m never going to be a good enough father. I’m never going to be a good enough husband. I’m never going to be a good enough actor for myself. I just never will be, and I have to get comfortable with waking up every day and trying to move some little increment closer to the person I have always dreamed of being.” What do you think about what he has to say?

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