Jada Pinkett Smith has been learning a great deal about herself lately.
“I’m seeing how strong my vulnerability can be and that I don’t always have to do things by myself; that I don’t always have to fight,” notes the star of the TNT hit “HawthoRNe,” now in its second season. “I’ve learned that sometimes when you let people in, and let them see what hurts, or what makes you smile or love or laugh, that that’s probably the most powerful thing you can do.”
It’s powerful and it’s also a stellar way to live. At least for the actress and her family — that would be hubby Will, daughter Willow and son Jaden, who’s currently on the rise thanks to this summer’s “Karate Kid” reboot, which the Smiths produced.
Considering Ms. Smith’s curious balancing act — mom, actress, producer, more — it makes sense that she says, “Resilience is probably my biggest strength.”
And most people would leave it at that. But not Pinkett Smith. That’s because, unlike most people, she doesn’t avoid wandering deeper waters.
“My weakness,” she goes on before I can even ask the question, “is, well … in having the strength of endurance, there are certain characteristics you take on that don’t allow the ‘wall’ to crack and let things hurt you. You know what I mean? Sometimes, I am not as open as I should be. I can have a very ‘My way is the only way’ attitude.”
She’s silent for a moment. “I have a lot of weaknesses.”
Welcome to the refreshingly candid universe of Ms. Pinkett Smith, a place where loves shines, family rules and career is just a natural extension of one’s “mission” in life to spread some good in the world. It’s a fine rainbow of positiveness and it works really well for the woman, mostly, because she possesses something that is truly irresistible: guts.
“My grandmother [Marion Banfield] taught me there was nothing I could not do, and I honesty believed that,” she says. “Growing up, a little girl from Baltimore, Maryland, who was the product of two parents who were drug addicts, to be able to do what I’ve done, really comes from my grandmother instilling in me from day one, that there was nothing I could not do. She made me believe that I was the best at everything. So, somebody telling me I could not do something, was just not real to me.”
Looking back on it now makes her laugh. “I’m telling people, ‘Oh, I’m going to Hollywood to be a star,’ and they’re going, ‘Hmm … don’t know how that’s going to work out.’ I’m like, ‘Well, that’s your problem. I know how I am going to do it!’”
And that she did.
After excelling at Baltimore School for the Arts and North Carolina School for the Arts, Pinkett Smith hit Hollywood and by 1990, landed bit roles in a number of television shows, eventually capturing mainstream attention in “The Cosby Show” spin-off, “A Different World.”
What followed was an empowering evolution, both personally and professionally. She married actor-singer-heartthrob Will Smith in 1997, and spent just as much time creating a name for herself in noteworthy ventures like “The Nutty Professor,” “Bamboozled” and the “Matrix” films, to note just a few, as she did behind the scenes as a producer — 2003’s UPN/CW “All of Us,” which the couple created and produced, and which “loosely” resembled their own lives, stands out. She was also one of the executive producers of the 2008 tearjerker “The Secret Life of Bees.” Along the way, she and Smith had two children, Jaden and Willow; the actress is also stepmom to Smith’s son, Trey, from a previous marriage.
It’s 12-year-old Jaden, though, whom the couple seems to be jazzed about this summer, mainly because they are the producers of the upcoming “Karate Kid” redux in which their son stars alongside Jackie Chan.
Funny enough, Pinkett Smith credits her experience on “HawthoRNe” for guiding her through her son’s lush, big-screen outing, which was shot in China. “I can see how [much] more keen, how sharpened my skills had become having had such an intense four months on the television show.”
“HawthoRNe” is definitely the perfect creative playground for her. The popular series, which also stars Michael Vartan (“Alias”), begins its sophomore season this month. It shines for how passionately it showcases a headstrong, widowed chief nurse (Christina Hawthorne) battling tough cases at work and even tougher attitudes from her teenaged daughter at home. Imagine a more realistic “Julia,” some 40 years later, with emotional depth and a bundle of character flaws.
“I call Christina the altruist warrior because the woman is willing to sacrifice so much for people outside of herself,” Pinkett Smith says of the role. “She’s willing to go to battle. It’s a very very noble quality to have.”
Sure, but it’s also one Pinkett Smith, now 39, strives to emulate in the real world, too, especially with her family. “One of my jobs as the mother of the family, is to make sure that everybody has what they need; to make sure Jaden, especially now, is taken care of as far as his emotional, physical and spiritual needs,” she says with conviction. “We do everything as a family. Our business is a family business. We do it so that the family prospers.”
That fortitude may be the driving force behind the Smiths’ own noble enterprise, The Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation. The Baltimore, Maryland-based charity assists youth in urban inner cities and offers “family” support, among other noteworthy services.
“For Will and I, it was very important that we gave back to the community in a very grassroots way,” Pinkett Smith reflects about the organization. “Being from the background we come from — very modest ones, to say the least — I’ve known my whole life that if I hadn’t had people that reached out a hand to me, and helped me move forward and attain my dreams, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
The comment triggers a deep, knowing sigh before she adds, “As a family, we help other people prosper and try to put good things into the world. We feel like what we’re here to do is to illuminate family values, and to illuminate what’s great about having familial relationships.”
Fortunately that takes something she already possesses in spades: endurance.
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