December 11, 1998

Will Smith's Star Continues To Rise With `Enemy of the State'

By Nekesa Mumbi Moody

NEW YORK - According to the rules of physics - and Hollywood - everything that goes up must come down.

So after a string of career highs - a hit TV show, two blockbuster films and a multiplatinum rap career - Will Smith admits he was a ``little nervous'' with the release of his latest project, the thriller ``Enemy of the State.''

``I'm not missing too much,'' he said recently, as he sipped coffee at an upscale New York hotel. ``Film after film I'm scoring and people are reacting well, so it's inevitable with any ups there are going to be downs. I'm trying to avoid them as much as I can.''

So far, he's doing a pretty good job. The Philadelphia native first made waves as part of the rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, then parlayed that success into the television series, ``The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,'' which ended its six-year run in 1996.

Smith won acclaim with his debut role as a bisexual con artist in ``Six Degrees of Separation,'' and showed some box-office swagger with the hit movie ``Bad Boys,'' co-starring comedian Martin Lawrence.

But it wasn't until the blockbusters ``Independence Day'' and ``Men in Black'' that people finally began connecting Will Smith with super-stardom - and box-office gold.

It's not surprising why Smith has vaulted to the top - he's the guy everyone wants as a friend. Tall (6 feel 2 inches) and attractive, Smith, who recently celebrated his 30th birthday, has an endearing personality and a great comic instinct. Those qualities, plus a killer smile, have endeared him to movie audiences worldwide in mostly supporting or sidekick performances.

Now, even though his latest film stars Academy Award-winning actors Gene Hackman and Jon Voight, it is Smith who's the top draw.

Even Smith marvels at his current standing among Hollywood's elite.

``For six months I knew I was going to be working with Gene Hackman and like the third day of shooting and I'm already on screen with Gene Hackman,'' he said. ``So, we did our first take, and he leans over to me and says (Smith does his best Hackman impression), 'That was a good job there, son.' And that kind of inspired me, and I was like, 'OK, we've gotten over that hump.'''

``Enemy of the State,'' features Smith as a successful lawyer who unwittingly becomes a target of rogue agents who believe he has evidence that implicates them in a murder. It features conspiracy theories, high-tech spying, car chases galore and the inevitable movie explosion.

It is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, whose movie credits read like one long car chase and/or explosion: ``The Rock,'' ``Beverly Hills Cop'' and ``Top Gun,'' the latter of which starred Tom Cruise. Actually, Cruise was the first choice for Smith's role, but he was busy shooting Stanley Kubrick's ``Eyes Wide Shut,'' which has been shooting for the past year and a half.

``I don't have any problems taking Tom Cruise's seconds,'' Smith says with a laugh. ``I will eat off of Tom Cruise's cinematic plate any day of the week.''

An even greater sign of Smith's mainstream success may be his future role in Barry Sonnenfeld's movie version of the ``The Wild Wild West'' in which Smith was cast as James West. Back in old TV series, West was a white man played by Robert Conrad. Even Smith was surprised when Sonnefeld, who produced ``Men in Black,'' called on Smith for the film.

``I'm saying to him, 'Barry, I'm black,' and he's like, 'No one cares that you're black, no one cares.' And in a way I think he's correct about that,'' he said. ``It's a weird dichotomy because no one cares and everyone cares at the same time.''

Not only does Smith have a potential blockbuster in movie theaters, he recently signed a deal with Universal Pictures to start his own production company, Overbrook Entertainment. At the same time, he is eyeing film projects with Whitney Houston and a possible biopic on Muhammad Ali.

Smith also hasn't forgotten his music career. He has a hit album on the chart, ``Big Willie Style.'' It is his first album in years and a best seller. He also won a Grammy this year for best rap solo performance for the single, ``Men in Black.''

At first Smith was unsure if he should return to the rap arena. A little nudge by someone close to him, however, changed his mind.

``I was really nervous about the big change that hip hop had undertaken, when that whole gangsta rap thing took over the mainstream of hip hop. It was just dark, and the darkness was putting out my light a little bit,'' he said. ``Jada kind of convinced me to go ahead and make the records that I wanted to make and make people have to deal with me rather than me have to deal with them.''

Jada is fellow actor and wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who in July gave birth to a baby boy, Jaden. He is Pinkett Smith's first child and Smith's second - he has another son, Willard ``Trey'' Smith, from his marriage to Sheree Smith, which dissolved after three years.

A smile comes to his face when he mentions Jada's name - which is frequently. He calls her his best friend, and said the two had a ``spiritual marriage'' long before their New Year's Eve wedding date.

``It just felt right. It didn't feel like this was something that was this big huge life decision. I felt like I was going to be with her for the rest of my life anyway,'' he said. ``We weren't even going to have a wedding, we were going to basically get married in a quick ceremony. But our family was like, 'Hold on!' Jada's mother wasn't having it.''

When seeing the couple in public, they seem to be totally in love and in sync. But Smith said they both realize the pitfalls that can doom a relationship, and they know it will take a lot of work to keep it strong.

``Nothing you love was easy to attain, and we're very clear and very realistic about our situation,'' he said. ``We have a very realistic outlook on the world. It makes it so much easier when you deal with what's real, rather than dealing with what you wish was real. It's so much easier when you're with someone who is willing to accept reality rather than create this fantasy.''

Of course, a little humor doesn't hurt either.

``Jada said to me the other day, 'You are one of the biggest movie stars in the world. You just sold 8 million albums with your record. You are at the peak of your career and you got married.' I said 'Yeah?'''

Jada's reply: ``That was just stupid.''

Then Smith laughs, flashing that killer smile.

Return to Homepage