The acclaimed actress discusses her career and latest project, Girls Trip.
Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
Tonight, a conversation with actress Jada Pinkett Smith. She joins us to discuss her new film, “Girls Trip”, which I think is going to be a huge box office success, and her life as one-half of a Hollywood power couple.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. A conversation with Jada Pinkett Smith in just a moment.
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Tavis: Pleased to welcome Jada Pinkett Smith back to this program. You can catch her this weekend on the big screen in the comedy, “Girls Trip”. The project was written by our friend, Kenya Barris, creator of “Black-ish”, of course, and also stars Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish and Queen Latifah. Before we start our conversation with Ms. Pinkett Smith, here’s a clip now from “Girls Trip”.
Pinkett Smith: [laugh].
Tavis: Yeah, I’m glad we beat that out [laugh]. But I think you got the point.
Pinkett Smith: Yes.
Tavis: Good to see you, first of all.
Pinkett Smith: It’s good to see you.
Tavis: Did y’all have as much fun making this as it appears onscreen?
Pinkett Smith: Yeah, well, I think that’s why it’s so fun onscreen because we really had such a great time together offscreen. I mean, I would say that these are — well, you know Latifah and I. That’s been my buddy for years.
Tavis: Was it 21 years since…
Pinkett Smith: 20, yes.
Tavis: Since “Set It Off”?
Pinkett Smith: Yes.
Tavis: It doesn’t seem that long because it’s on TV every day somewhere [laugh]. I saw it last night, as a matter of fact.
Pinkett Smith: I know. But, you know, I definitely think I have new friends in Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish, for sure, yeah.
Tavis: Since I was just teasing you about that, maybe you can’t even answer this. I don’t know if you watch yourself on television, but if you’re flipping TV literally on any given night, you can see yourself in a bunch of stuff you’ve done over the years. Your baby, what, turned 19 the other day?
Pinkett Smith: He did.
Tavis: Jaden’s 19 now.
Pinkett Smith: He’s 19. I looked to Will and I was like, “It’s real. We are in the second half [laugh].” I said it is real, you know. Yeah, he just turned 19.
Tavis: I only raised that because, first of all, happy belated birthday, Jaden. But does it feel like at this point you’ve got a body of work now?
Pinkett Smith: I do have a body of work. It’s so interesting. I was thinking about that, how I’ve been blessed enough to do a lot of different things, you know, to play a lot of different characters. So I look in my body of work and I go, hey, you didn’t do too bad.
Tavis: Situate this in your body of work. How does this one fit in?
Pinkett Smith: Well, you know, I love comedy. I just haven’t had the opportunity to do as much comedy as I’ve wanted to do, and it’s so funny. A couple of years ago, even before I did “Bad Moms”, I was telling everybody.
I said, “I really want to do more comedy. I really want to start exercising that aspect of my personality”, because I know that the public sees me as a very serious person. But people who are close to me, especially like my husband, see me as very funny [laugh].
Tavis: We’ll take your word for it, huh [laugh]?
Pinkett Smith: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. He’s like one day…
Tavis: I was just teasing [laugh].
Pinkett Smith: No. It’s so funny because he’s like, “One day I’m gonna direct you in a movie. I want people to know how funny you are”, so I just said, “You know, I want to just start doing more comedy.”
Tavis: Since you went there, how would that work? Could Will direct you in a film?
Pinkett Smith: Absolutely, absolutely, definitely.
Tavis: Would you take his direction?
Pinkett Smith: I would, especially in a comedy. Drama, I don’t know [laugh], but in a comedy for sure because I trust his instincts and I know that he understands me comedically and that’s what to me makes a great comedic director like Keenan. Keenan, he just understood me comedically.
Like all of those performances in “Low Down Dirty Shame”, he cracked it because he knew me personally. You know what I mean? So I really feel like that’s what I need as an actress, yes.
Tavis: Now I’m getting into your business, your family business. Is that something that Will, you think, might do somewhere down the road?
Pinkett Smith: Direct?
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Pinkett Smith: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Tavis: You think so?
Pinkett Smith: No doubt about it, yeah, for sure. He’s doing a lot of studying and moving in that direction. So, yeah, that is something he has a strong interest in doing.
Tavis: What is it about — since you went there, I’ll follow you. What is it about your personality that makes you so keen on comedy?
Pinkett Smith: Oh, man. I think I’m just really silly [laugh]. I’m really silly and as I’ve gotten older, I just really love to laugh, you know. Living with someone like Will for 23 years, you just get into the habit of living that kind of lifestyle. Because you know Will’s just a big kid and that’s 24/7.
Tavis: That is, yeah.
Pinkett Smith: Yeah. So, you know, I really don’t get to see it except through people that I know. You know what I mean? I don’t know. It’s just an aspect of myself. I can’t really tell you what makes me funny or anything like that, but I do know that I’m a very, very silly person.
Tavis: Let me get serious for half a second here.
Pinkett Smith: Okay.
Tavis: Then we’ll come back to the joke stuff.
Pinkett Smith: All right.
Tavis: I really am fascinated by this because you guys live your lives in such a public way. I mean, you don’t live your life that way, but the public follows you everywhere you go. Let’s put it that way.
Pinkett Smith: Right.
Tavis: How do you hold onto the silly? How do you hold onto the laughter? You know where I’m going with this. How do you enjoy the good times when there’s so much other stuff around it, the rumors, the gossip, the hate, you run it? How do you hold onto the silly and how do you hold onto the laughter? How do you hold onto each other when all that other stuff is swirling around you?
Pinkett Smith: The gratitude, you know.
Tavis: I take that, I take that.
Pinkett Smith: Just being deeply thankful and just understanding that that’s nothing to take personally at all. That comes with the territory, you know. It’s just kind of how energy works. So as much love as you get is like the matrix, you know.
As much as you get on one end, you’re gonna get the other on the other end. That’s why a lot of spiritual scriptures say to be neutral, be balanced. Don’t be too much this or too much that.
Tavis: But it seems to me — and I take your point. I believe and I’ve said so many times that gratitude is the gateway to greatness. Gratitude is the gateway to greatness. I try to live in space of gratitude myself. Yet what you said, while I concur with it intellectually, it is so much easier said than done, to not take it personally sometimes.
Pinkett Smith: But, you know, when you go through it so much and when you know what’s actually happening in your life, that is actually the opposite of what people are saying or think about you.
You know, I’ve been criticized greatly about how I’ve raised my children, but when I see the outcome of my children and the beautiful beings that they are and how happy they are, you start to understand these different rules of the universe. You know what I’m saying?
In all honesty, it’s just part of it and actually it has nothing to do with you and you learn too that you cannot look at your image through the eyes of others. Because most of the time, it’s a very cracked lens. So as long as my world, the people who are closest to me, as long as we are sharing in love and that my connection to the highest above is on point, I’m really good.
Tavis: Two thoughts just hit me as you were talking. One is that, if I had a dime for every time somebody stops me in this country or around the world, airport, hotel or wherever, and they say, “That interview that you and Will did about “The Alchemist” one day… [laugh] was like the best interview…”
I mean, I know it’s been downloaded — like I saw one day like millions of views of this conversation that Will and I had in this very chair one day. He was talking about “The Alchemist” being his favorite book. As I listened to you say certain things, I’m like so both of y’all done read this book.
Pinkett Smith: Yeah, we share…
Tavis: Reading lists?
Pinkett Smith: We share reading lists and I think one of the things that — you know, this might seem really corny, but one of the things that I love about my partnership with Will is that we are constantly pushing each other to grow. I have learned to value that greatly in our relationship and we’ve come to understand that that is the biggest aspect of our togetherness is how we grow together.
You know, we always say, “I don’t know if anybody else was here that I would grow the way that I grow with you. The way you force me to look at things and the way I have to expand and the capacity in which I have to grow to in order to have all the things that you’re talking about.”
One of the great things about being put in a position like that is in order to survive and then to be happy in that survival is that you do have to grow spiritually. You have to. If you don’t, it’ll kill you literally.
So as a family, you know, a lot of times we look at the negative aspect of being in this industry and all that comes with it. But it is those very things that help break certain ideas that keep us small, you know. I’m very grateful for that, yeah.
Tavis: This is getting good now. What’s fascinating to me about this is that you seem so well-adjusted now to the life that you live and, to your point, it’s all a part of the process. Yet I can’t think of anything — so there are two questions, two thoughts here.
I can’t think of anything, though, that would hurt — well, let’s put it this way. Let me get personal with it. I know that there’s nothing in the world that hurts my mama more than seeing me hurt.
Pinkett Smith: Oh, yeah.
Tavis: Don’t get me preaching now or I’ll start crying here. I’m a grown man and my mama will break down in tears if she even thinks that her baby is in pain.
Pinkett Smith: Yes, that’s right.
Tavis: My point is that there seems to me nothing more potentially painful for a mother than to have people talking about her babies, and that happens to you a lot.
Pinkett Smith: It happens a lot.
Tavis: As you said a moment ago. So the first question is how do you process people talking about your babies and, secondly, how do your babies process being talked about in a world where kids get it as much as adults do? It just seems so unfair.
Pinkett Smith: I know. Doesn’t it? But I have to say their generation — I have to say that they haven’t been as affected as I have at times. And I think it has a lot to do with social media. You know what I mean?
Tavis: I take that. I can see that. I see that.
Pinkett Smith: You kind of get numb to it. Whereas for us in our generation, it’s something new. I agree with you. There was a point in time where it was devastating, you know, and once again I had to realize that the way in which I was raising my children was scary to people. It was scary because it’s so different and I knew that I had to just let people wait and kind of see the outcome.
Tavis: To your mind, what were they scared of, Jada?
Pinkett Smith: Well, just the amount of freedom that I’ve allowed my kids to have. You know, when Willow shaved all her hair off, it was like “Oh, my God! What are you doing over there?” and not understanding that in allowing a young girl to have ownership over her hair, over her body, how you’re teaching her how to be a powerful, young woman. You know what I mean? And hair grows back, but as women, how we’re connected to our hair, how we’re connected to our looks, it’s just scary.
So people tend to attack things that they’re afraid of and I had to really have more compassion for that and to understand I don’t necessarily need people to understand what I’m doing, that I had to trust myself and that, in the long run, people would either get it or they wouldn’t. But at the end of the day, what was most important was the happiness of my children. That was what was most important.
Tavis: How do you balance — this is a question for every parent, but particularly and especially, I think, Jada, when you live in a world where your kids have so much privilege, the challenges, I think, are probably a bit greater. How do you balance that freedom that you spoke of a moment ago, which I think is important for kids to have…
Pinkett Smith: Especially kids of color.
Tavis: Exactly. Couldn’t agree more. How do you balance that freedom with responsibility particularly when your kids live in a world where they have so much privilege?
Pinkett Smith: Well, here’s the thing. I am one that believes that you only get a certain amount of freedom with the amount of responsibility that you can have with that freedom. Because I do believe that, you know, a lot of people when they talk about freedom, they don’t talk about the responsibility that comes with freedom. Let’s talk about freedom of speech, for instance, okay?
So for me, in my particular household, I would give out freedoms in the understanding of the responsibilities that came with those freedoms. You know what I mean? So that’s how Will and I…
Tavis: And every kid can’t handle the same.
Pinkett Smith: And every kid can’t handle the same thing, you know. There are certain freedoms that Jaden got a little earlier than my other two kids because he had a certain maturity, you know, at a certain age that they didn’t. And I don’t really look at age as like, okay, you’re nine, so now you get to do this. I look at what you have the capacity to handle because I believe that everybody grows at different levels.
Even as adults, you know, it’s all about capacity to just be able to have the eyes and the sensitivity to see what somebody can have. So I’m always willing to give my kids what they can have even if I can see they can have it and they might not believe they can have it, pushing them just a little. Because at the end of the day, my goal is for my children to be empowered in being exactly who they are.
The best gift we can ever give our children is giving them their selves. That is the best gift we can offer as parents, not giving them what we believe they should be, not what society thinks they should be, but who they believe they are individually.
That is all we are reaching for as adults. My goal is, as a child, when you have these two parents right here who have the strength to hold you up, that you can try anything you want in this world, in this house. So by the time you leave, you could have it all.
I’m not just talking about material things. I’m talking about you can have whatever this world brings, whether it’s sickness, whether it’s poverty, whatever it is. And knowing that there is a power higher than us all that is carrying you through all of it, and that has been my goal. That’s it.
Tavis: I don’t just hear it. I feel it as a parent what you’re attempting to do. Let me ask a different question, which is what you — and maybe even you and Will, together or individually, what is it that you are hoping to share with your kids artistically?
Through your artistic choices through the practice and expression of your artistic craft, what is it that you hope your kids get artistically? Because if there’s nothing else we think about the Smith kids, we can see they’re artistic already.
Pinkett Smith: Yeah [laugh].
Tavis: They’re artistic. They got their own ideas about the way they do things. So what is it that you hope that you have given to your kids as a lesson artistically?
Pinkett Smith: Artistically, I think that the biggest message that Will and I both have probably you can’t help but convey it, but just because of who we are as artists and individuals, is use your art to change the world. Just use your art to change the world.
In whatever help, use your art to shape the world in which how you see it, to create the world in which you want, you know. Because art is, in my opinion and in Will’s opinion, the most beautiful way to create the world that you see. So even with Jaden’s idea of gender fluidity or Willow’s pro woman like [laugh]…
Tavis: You got it all under one roof [laugh].
Pinkett Smith: Yes, exactly. We got it all under one roof.
Tavis: Under one roof, yeah.
Pinkett Smith: Yeah. Or they’re both interested in saving the planet. So that’s the only thing that we’ve tried to convey is that to use your gifts to shape the world in the way in which you believe it should be.
Tavis: When you’re married to a man who at one point is regarded as the biggest box office star in the world and then he goes through a period where he’s no longer — at least for a period of time — the number one box office star in the world. And all those people who are writing all those nice things about him now start saying he’s lost it…
Pinkett Smith: Yeah. Isn’t that deep?
Tavis: Big Willie ain’t got it no more.
Pinkett Smith: Isn’t that deep?
Tavis: You done made billions of dollars, right?
Pinkett Smith: Right [laugh].
Tavis: You done made billions of dollars for everybody, but now you’ve lost it. You ain’t got it no more. You’re searching for a hit. You know the story. You read it every day. Again, if I’m getting too personal, tell me.
But there’s so many lessons — I love Will and I love you, of course, but I love to learn. I guess one of the best ways to learn is by watching people who overcome, who navigate their way through this kind of stuff.
Pinkett Smith: Absolutely.
Tavis: Particularly in a business as treacherous as Hollywood is. How do you encourage your partner? How do you encourage?
What do you say to the person you love — I’m asking a larger question here — when they’re going through something where everybody else is declaring one thing, but you have to live with this person every day and you’re not buying what you’re reading. You’re not buying what you’re hearing. But how do you — console is the wrong word. How do you communicate?
Pinkett Smith: Well, here’s the thing. Here’s the beauty of family. Your family always reminds you that you’re so much more than all of that, period. That is the beauty of family that all of that, that comes and it goes, but guess what doesn’t.
This circle right here? We love you regardless, and guess what? That ain’t you anyway. This right here? That’s you and that’s what matters. This right here? These people around here think you’re a great man. That’s what matters.
Tavis: Speaking of a great man, I think I told you this. In my office, there sits a photo that I treasure. I felt like just for that one day, for that one moment, they allowed me in the Smith family. I have a picture and whenever people walk in — I got pictures of all kind of folk in my office and friends and family of my own, but there’s something about this photo that always draws peoples’ eye and their attention.
It is a picture of Will Smith holding Jaden when he was just a baby and Will’s father was here visiting from Philadelphia. So Will came to visit me on the show, I guess, and his dad was with him, Jaden was with him. So there are three generations of Smiths in this photo and I’m standing on the side kind of, you know…
Pinkett Smith: Right. Hey…[laugh].
Tavis: Kind of a photo mom [laugh]. But there’s something about that photo, man, and the look on all three of their faces and to see generations of Black men and to know where Will comes from, his back story, it’s a powerful photo.
Pinkett Smith: It is a powerful photo.
Tavis: I just thought about that when you mentioned that family is what matters.
Pinkett Smith: Yeah, because when I think about those…
Tavis: His father’s passed since…
Pinkett Smith: Yeah. His father’s passed, and when I think about those three individuals, when I think about where his father came from, what he had been through, thinking about Will being raised by his father, what that was and then how Will came through, and then giving birth to Jaden and just the generations of like the build, you know what I mean, of like each of them being able to springboard their son to the next, isn’t that beautiful?
Will, Sr. did it for Will, you know, and Will did it for Jaden, and that’s how it should be. We just keep spring boarding the next generation. Isn’t that beautiful?
Tavis: That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Pinkett Smith: That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Tavis: Let me go back to this film now.
Pinkett Smith: Okay.
Tavis: This film is entertaining, but it’s also empowering. And it’s empowering without being didactic, without being preachy, without proselytizing, and yet it’s empowering anyway. I won’t give the ending away, but it’s a very empowering project.
Pinkett Smith: It’s got a beautiful message.
Tavis: It does have a beautiful — so talk to me about that part, about the fact that you got a chance to do something that wasn’t just entertaining, but empowering as well.
Pinkett Smith: Yeah. I mean, that was one of the ideas of the film that really attracted me was you had these four women who didn’t have perfect lives at all, who had to come together to not only heal their relationship, but to remind each other of who they are so that they can have the courage to really become who they are.
I think a lot of times for us as women, it’s easy to forget. You know, we’re in an interesting stage of the feminine where we have a lot of choices now. You know what I mean?
We’re really — you know, it’s kind of like this idea of like what is it to be a woman? What is it to be a powerful woman? What is it to be a married woman, a mother? You know, all these things and we’re trying to fall into all these boxes of identity where this movie is basically saying, by all means necessary, just have you — whatever that means.
You know what I’m saying? For some women, it is about having a family and a career. For some women, it’s just about having a career. For some women, it’s about being a stay-at-home mom. Whatever it is, just be that thing for yourself, and how we have to dissolve all the fears that come with it, all the ideas of what people are telling us we should be versus just be.
Tavis: I think this one’s got money written all over it [laugh]. It’s got box office written all over it.
Pinkett Smith: I hope so! I hope so.
Tavis: I mean, it’s impossible to see it and to not laugh. It’s impossible to see it and not learn. It’s impossible to see it and not love.
Pinkett Smith: Yeah.
Tavis: It’s impossible to see it and not listen. It all comes together nicely.
Pinkett Smith: I’m pretty proud of it, to be honest with you…
Tavis: You should be. Give me a high five on that.
Pinkett Smith: Yes [laugh]!
Tavis: Love you.
Pinkett Smith: Love you.
Tavis: Give my best to Will.
Pinkett Smith: I will.
Tavis: Good to see you.
Pinkett Smith: Nice to see you.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
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