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article imageWill Smith goes from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air to film stardom Special

By Earl Dittman     Apr 24, 2011 in Entertainment
After a successful rap career, Will Smith spent six seasons on the hit TV comedy The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air before becoming one of the highest-paid and most likable movie stars on the planet. Also: Glee Encore!, Somewhere, American Dad & Square Grouper.
When Philly-born Will Smith hit the music charts in the late-80s as part of the platinum-plated rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Smith, he became an immediate media star. After burning up the charts with tunes like "Parents Just Don't Understand," Smith made a handful of major films (Six Degrees Of Separation, Bad Boys) before beginning his six season stint on the highly-rated, Quincy Jones-produced TV comedy, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. In the weekly comedy, the Grammy-winning Smith portrayed a street-smart kid from Philadelphia (like himself), who is sent to live with the Banks, his rich relatives in Beverly Hills.
"I loved doing Fresh Prince because the show felt a lot like what I was going through in my own life, I felt like I was living in this different world" the 42-year-old Smith remembers. "It was also a lot of fun to do, but it also taught me a lot about acting. The rest of the cast was always there to help me if I needed anything." With a cast that included Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali, Daphne Maxwell Reid, James Avery, Joseph Marcell and Alfonso Ribeiro, the sitcom was a mainstream hit with television audiences with its phat one-liners and hip comedy style. There had been rumors that the reign of The Fresh Prince would continue for several more seasons, but Season Six marked the end of Smith's ultra-successful television career and prepared him for a film career that would transform him into an international household name.
The Cast of  The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
The Cast of 'The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air'
Warner Bros.
"I'll always have a big place in my heart for Fresh Prince," confesses Smith, the father of three (son, Trey with first wife Sheree and son Jaden and daughter Willow with his current spouse, film and cable star Jada Pinkett-Smith). "I don't think I could have gone on to do the big films like Independence Day or Men In Black if I hadn't have had those six years of training on the show." And, with recent big screen hits such as The Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend and Seven Pounds, Smith is taking on more than just action films. "Fresh Prince also gave me the confidence to try different things with my acting," says Smith, who is wrapping up work on the sequel Men In Black 3. "It's a great show, and I think it's just as fresh today as when it ended (1996). It definitely has stood the test of time."
Will Smith in  Seven Pounds
Will Smith in 'Seven Pounds'
What does it feel like to be called the biggest movie star on planet Earth?
"I wish I could remember who wrote this story. My wife remembers where I read it. Anyway, I read an article where somebody said he’s a mountain climber and he had it set in his mind that he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. He said, ‘I want to climb Everest,’ and he went to the top and realized he couldn’t breathe. The only thought he had was, ‘How in the hell can I get down from here as fast as I can?’ So, basically, be careful what you wish for, because you fight to get there and then this discomfort sets in. The last couple of years have been scary and frustrating for me. I had an epiphany after working on Seven Pounds. Part of that feeling was I was looking at my life and looking at myself and my future too much, based around these movies. I had this huge epiphany of how much more I want to be and do -- the idea of living in service to humanity versus living in service of commercializing my movies. That explosion washed away that scary, uncomfortable feeling. I don’t necessarily want to be remembered as the biggest movie star on the planet. I want to be remembered as a man who cared about people and dedicated himself to making the world better. Emotionally, it’s so much better of a place for me after having that epiphany."
Most people don't know this, but you were accepted into M.I.T. If you hadn’t become an actor, was science the direction you were heading in?
"For me, math and science were always my strongest subjects. I always dreamed of designing a fully-computerized classroom; I always thought how you could come in and take roll with your fingerprints, and then there’s a keyboard built into the desk and as the teachers talked, their words would come up onto a computerized board. So I dreamed of building and creating something like that when I was a child, and I may still do that, but it will be from a different perspective, but I’ve always loved the idea of connecting technology and education."
Will  Smith in  I  Robot
Will Smith in 'I, Robot'
You've taken a lot of risks in your career. What kind of a risk-taker are you?
" I actually don’t consider myself a huge risk-taker. I’m a student of the patterns of the universe. So if I can figure out how something is seemingly risky but I’ve got the numbers on my side, I get really comfortable with taking a leap. I’ve told this story a few times about special effects movies that made films like this -- and how when I first came to Hollywood, my manager and I -- I said ‘I want to be the biggest movie star in the world!’ And he’s like ‘OK, We should probably figure out what they do, and plot a course?’ So he went and got the top ten movies of all time at that point, and we looked and we tried to figure out what were the patterns. And the top ten movies of all time, ten out of ten were special effects movies. Nine out of ten were special effects movies with creatures. Eight out of ten were special effects movies with creatures and a love story. Right? So Independence Day is not really a hard call to make when you look at the numbers?! So I Am Legend, in concept, is not really a hard call to make. And then it becomes about execution. Can you get into that artistic place where you’re advancing an idea? Advancing a genre? And you can spend your energy in the most difficult area rather than bumping your head around ideas that have already been proven or dis-proven. All of that to say, I look at the patterns, so I’m using my maximum amount of energy in that last 10 percent. And producer Jerry Bruckheimer said to me, one time, 'The amount of energy that it takes you to go from 0 to 90, that’s the same amount of energy it takes you to go from 90 to 100.' And so what I try to do, is get to that 90 spot with the maximum amount of energy left to be able to make that final difficult, artistic, almost impossible push."
So were not going to see you jump out of an airplane without safety precautions?
"No. And I’m a very, very practical seat-belt wearer. I keep it real simple in real life."
Will and Willow Smith in  I Am Legend
Will and Willow Smith in 'I Am Legend'
Warner Bros.
Your movies have become a real family affair. You've worked with your son Jaden (The Pursuit Of Happyness) and your daughter, Willow (I Am Legend). What was it like working with your kids, especially Willow (Smith)?
"You kind of don’t work with Willow, you work for Willow. (laughs) It’s interesting, (wife) Jada (Pinkett-Smith) and I debate the age old question of whether it’s nature versus nurture. Is it because two actors went to Mexico and drank some tequila and made a baby? Does that make the baby an actor? Or, did she grow up in a house where that is what is in her house, that is just the life, and that’s the experience that she knows? When I look at Willow, I just believe that it has to be neither one of those. There has to be something else. With Willow, she just loves it. She just wants it, she has a drive, an energy, and she just connects to human emotion. I think a big part of it is probably Jaden. After The Pursuit of Happyness and she saw what Jaden did, she thought, ‘I want that.’ (laughs) The night we told Willow that she had got the role, because we make our kids audition and all of that, we don’t do the whole nepotism thing, so Jaden was sitting in front of her. We always call the family in and we announce all the good things that happen with everybody in the house and everybody has to share in it. Willow is there, Jaden and I are in front, and Willow is behind him. We say, ‘Everybody, we just want to congratulate Willow. She got the part in I Am Legend that she auditioned for. So, Willow immediately turns around to Jaden, smiles, puts her hands on her hips, and does a silent, ‘Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.’ I went ‘What’s that? What was that for?’ I was surprised, because she had never talked about any feelings she was having. But, she was glad she got that part just to show Jaden. She was looking at her brother, and it was like, ‘Okay, I’m plotting on you dude.’" (laughs)
Which one of your kids likes the money more, Jaden or Willow? Do they have managers?
"We always say when we look at Jaden and Willow, that Jaden is Johnny Depp. He just wants to do good work, he doesn’t care what money he gets. He doesn’t care if people see it or don’t see it. He loves acting, he just wants to make good movies. Willow is Paris Hilton. (laughs) Willow wants to be on TV. (laughs) We are managing both of those in our household."
Is your oldest son, Trey, ready for his shot at the big screen?
"Not at all. He has no interest in it at all. He could care less about acting and doing movies. Football is his thing. He loves football."
Will and Jaden Smith in  The Pursuit Of Happyness
Will and Jaden Smith in 'The Pursuit Of Happyness'
When the holidays come around, do your kids expected Lamborghinis under the Christmas tree? How do you keep them grounded, especially now that they are doing movies themselves?
"It’s funny, it’s really simple. Jaden and Trey are very simple. Willow just wants clothes. She loves it, she’s dressed herself since she was about four years old. She is very specific about her style. She is very specific about how she wants to look, how she wants to present, the sizes and all that."
How do you manage to keep them grounded?
"We live in La-la-land, out here. Los Angeles and New York are cut off from the rest of the country and the rest of the world. For us, traveling is hugely important, for our kids to really see other things, and experience other things. We have taken them to South Africa. Gabriele hosted us just outside of Rome in his town. We try to get them to experience how other people live. The grounded idea is more of a concept of how you relate to your service of mankind. That is what we try to impart to our children. You are a part of a whole, and you have a responsibility to uplift and be a positive influence, on the whole. We feel like that will help with the concept of grounding in this."
Warner Bros
You've done great on television and in movies, but do you think that there is racism inherent in the film industry? Is that why we don’t see more mainstream black movies?
"It’s interesting. But, I don’t like the word racism, because there are so many connotations that go with it. Look, if you put ten black artists in a room and we sit down and come up with something, it will be about black people. It’s not racism with studios, because the majority of the creative people there are of a certain background, but it’s more our responsibility to be able to display and show how it could different, how to make a film like Set It Off, Bad Boys or The Secret Life of Bees attractive to a mass movie-going audience. We have to display how that will work. We can’t expect people to write or produce our stories unless we do it."
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air: The Complete Sixth Season: For more Clips from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, visit the Official Website at
Glee Encore!
"One of the most memorable songs on the show, for me, has bee 'Somebody To Love,' admits cast member Cory Montheith. That's great news for Cory and the million of fans who also love the Queen song and are glued to the screen each week singing and dancing along with the hit show Glee. Why? Because "Somebody To Love" is one of the 30-plus numbers that can be heard and seen on Glee Encore! collection, which contains the greatest performances from Season One. From "Vogue" and "Like A Virgin" from The Power Of Madonna episode to "Don't Stop Believin'" from the Pilot: Director's Cut debut show, there's a song for everyone to enjoy. "Our fans have been so dedicated and so attached and it’s such a following," cast member Jenna Ushkowitz says about their music lovin' fan base. "I feel like they just become almost obsessed in a positive and a good way, but they really are just hardcore fans and we appreciate it to no end."
If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise
A companion piece to filmmaker Spike Lee's award-winning documentary When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts, the director returns to the Crescent City five years later to chronicle the rebuilding efforts that have continued since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans -- in this stunning, four-hour documentary If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise. Utilizing stories of both hope and heartache, Lee focuses on the successes (2010 Super Bowl victory) and the failures (the British Petroleum oil spill) that has marked the city's comeback. Conducting interviews with everyone from people in governmental power to the poor residents in desperate need, Lee paints an extraordinary picture of a city -- and its residents -- that refuses to give up hope to restore New Orleans to its former brilliance. (Only on DVD) Bonus Features: Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Spike Lee and Pickin' Up Da Pieces: 60-minute featurette with never-before-seen interviews.
The Way Back
The latest epic from the six-time Oscar-nominated Australian director Peter Weir -- who has made such classics as Witness and Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World -- features Ed Harris (Apollo 13), Jim Sturgess (Across The Universe), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Colin Farrell (In Bruges) star in an incredible saga -- based on a 1940 true story -- about seven prisoners who attempt to escape the brutally of an oppressive Siberian gulag. Once outside the gulag, they must travel over 4,500 dangerous miles through the cold Russian wasteland to make it to freedom. Distrustful of one another, they must make the lengthy trek with almost very little food and few supplies. But together, they must withstand bitter freezing cold of Siberia and the most extreme elements of nature they must get through to escape their enslavement. A wilderness adventure about the endurance of the human body and the strength of the human spirit. Bonus Features: Behind-the-Scenes featurette and Trailer.
Square Grouper (The Godfathers of Ganja)
A compelling documentary from Billy Corben, Square Grouper traces the history of Miami's pot-smoking culture during the 1970s and 1980s. According to Square Grouper, in 1979, the U.S. Customs Service published a report that stated that 87% of all marijuana seizures made in the United States took place in South Florida area. For pot smuggler's, South Florida was a drug dealer's paradise -- with its 5,000 miles of coast, the state's endless coastal waterways and being right around the corner from the Caribbean and Latin America. And the pot peddlers of the 1980's were cool, hip and most importantly, peace-loving dudes -- unlike the gun-toting, ultra-violent cocaine cowboys of the '80s. Corben uses Square Grouper to introduce viewers to some of the biggest players of Miami's one-time ('70s and '80s) Golden Era of pot smuggling -- from the Black Tuna Gang to the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church -- and take an eye-opening journey to the small, infamous fishing hamlet of Everglades City. (Only on DVD) Bonus Features: Touring Ten Thousand Islands; Deleted Scenes; Scoring Square Grouper; Song Of Square Grouper; Music Videos; Commentary with Billy Corben (director) and Lindsey Snell (producer) and Square Grouper Trailer
American Dad Volume 6
American Dad creator Seth MacFarlane and his comic partners in crime Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman had a great time with Season 6 of the outrageous animated series, particularly because they were able to assemble their entire cast -- which includes MacFarlane, Scott Grimes, Wendy Schaal, Rachael MacFarlane and Dee Bradley Baker-- together, several times in the recording studio to perform entire scenes and sequences of American Dad episodes. "Anytime you can get all the actors in the room together, it's good," MacFarlane admits. "But most of the time with schedules, people are doing a million different things. So you don't really have that luxury. But all the shows are pretty careful about -- if there is a scene that really depends on that overlapping improvised feel, we do usually make sure to have the actors in the booth together." From CIA operative Stan Smith battling the Antichrist in the crazy "Rapture's Delight" episode or rescuing Roger from bloodthirsty revolutionaries, it's great to the American Dad gang back together for another great season. (Only on DVD) Bonus Features: Audio Commentary on Select Episodes; Uncensored Audio and/or Video on Select Episodes; Deleted Scenes; "The Making of Rapture's Delight" featurette; Rapture's Delight Broadcast Script; Alternate Commentaries on Select Episodes Featuring The Interdisciplinary Collective for American Dad Studies and "American Dad Honors Its Four-Legged Friends" featurette.
Much like her earlier directorial efforts Lost In Translation, The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antionette, Academy Award-winner Sofia Coppola -- the 30-year-old daughter of filmmaking great Francis Ford Coppola -- has crafted a another touching and moving story about human emotions. "I try to examine and expose what it means to be a person," explains Coppola, who has made an on-camera appearance (often uncredited) in each film of her dad's films from The Godfather trilogy. In Somewhere, the younger Coppola (who wrote the screenplay) focuses on the complex and witty bond between father and daughter. Starring Stephen Dorff as an actor Jonny Marco, who spends his life in the celebrity fast lane, and Elle Fanning as his 11-year-old daughter Cleo, Somewhere chronicles their often awkward feelings when Cleo unexpectedly shows up at her dad's hotel room at the infamous Chateau Marmont hotel, while he is living it up with ladies and pharmaceuticals. A lot changes in the relationship during their time together -- most of which, neither planned on. Bonus Features: "Making Somewhere" featurette; Pocket Blu; BD-Live Enabled; My Scenes and uHear.
Born To Raise Hell
Back to what he does best -- beatin' down the bad guys -- actor (and real-life Sheriff) Steven Seagal is taking down the criminals, one by one. "I think I was meant to do action movies," Seagal admits. "That's why I try to do as many of them as I can. This time around, in the action-packed Born To Raise Hell, Seagal plays a butt-kickin Interpol agent heading up an Eastern European task force with a mission to find the main supplier's behind the Balkan's dope-trafficking and gun-running. While investigating a heavy duty Russian arms-dealer, he find himself right in the middle of a nasty street fight between the Russians and a Gypsy gang. During one bloody battle a member of his team is murdered and Seagal's character is ready to avenge his Interpol buddy's death -- using every trick and tool of the trade to bring the Gypsy and Russian gangs down.
Gulliver's Travels
Based on the classic, centuries-old fable that has provided thrills to excitement lovers the world over, comedian Jack Black stars in the latest 3D adaptation of Gulliver's unexpected voyage to a land where has become a giant. "It's always fun to try and put your spin on a character we are all familiar with," says Black, who recently completed his vocal work on the animated feature film Kung Fu Panda 2. "We have all heard the story of Gulliver, but we are not quite sure what kind of guy he's like. I think you have a definite idea after watching this movie." In the contemporary version of the tale, Jack plays a mailroom clerk for a major publication. When he develops a crush on Darcy (Amanda Peet), the travel editor, he decides one way to catch her attention is by taking on a writing assignment to Bermuda. His trip doesn't go exactly as planned. First off, he finds himself shipwrecked on the tiny, fantasy-like island of Lilliput, and to top it off, he is a giant to the native Lilliputians. Surprisingly, the Lilliputians are impressed by his very exaggerated tales of heroic deeds. His ego becomes massive. But, when a friend finds himself in trouble, Gulliver loses it all and must find a way to save his pal and repair whatever damage he has caused the island and its natives. Directed by Rob Letterman, Gulliver's Travels also features Emily Blunt, Billy Connolly, Jason Segel, T.J. Miller and Chris O'Dowd. Bonus Features: Gag Reel, "I Don't Know . . . With Lemuel Gulliver" featurette; Deleted Scenes; Exclusive Short Features: Little And Large, Jack Black Thinks Big, Gulliver's Foosball Challenge and War Song Dance; Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character: Jack Black; Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character: Jason Segel; Fox Movie Channel Presents Life After Film School: Rob Letterman; Fox Movie Channel Presents World Premiere; a Blu-ray 3D disc, Blu-ray disc, DVD and a Digital Copy.
Warner Bros.
Mortal Kombat
The best-selling video game comes to life in director Paul Anderson's action-packed, hi-octane thriller stars Christopher Lambert as Lord Rayden, who has rescued the possible three saviors of the world. In this exciting film adaptation, the fate of the planet depends on the fighting abilities of The Chosen 3 -- a martial artist, an action film star, a soldier -- who must go up against a myriad of deadly creatures and dangerous conflicts. Also starring Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson and Robin Shou, Mortal Kombat: The Movie will have fans of the three Kombatants cheering at the big screen for our heroes to win. Bonus Features: Mortal Kombat The Video Game Trailer; Tie-In Animated Adventure Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins and Theatrical Trailer. For exclusive downloads for Mortal Kombat, visit the Official Site at or check out an additional Mortal Kombat site at
Much Ado About Nothing
Actor/director Kenneth Branagh takes on another of Shakespeare's greatest works with the sexy and witty Much Ado About Nothing Love. With an all-star casts that includes Branagh, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard and Michael Keaton, the Bard's famous romantic comedy deals with the several faces, foibles and fantastic feelings of love. From a young couple who must fight off a treacherous friend who tries to make the lady (Beckinsale) his own to a loving couple (former real-life husband and wife Branagh and Thompson) who always find themselves fighting each other. A wonderfully fun and timeless tale about the eternal battle between the sexes. Bonus Features: "Much Ado About Nothing" featurette and Theatrical Trailer.
Benny And Joon
Jeremiah S. Chechik directs one of the most charming and quirky romantic comedies on the past few decades with the offbeat Benny and Joon. In this witty film that stars Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Dan Hedaya, Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt and Aidan Quinn, Masterson portrays the incredibly eccentric Joon -- a charming and sweet woman (when she is taking her medicine) -- who is always under the eye of her overprotective brother, Benny (Quinn), Joon is desperate to live life on her own. The whimsical and charming Sam (Depp) wins his chance (at a poker game) to get to know Joon better, but they must find her brother a love interest if they are to have any chance at love. Bonus Features: Audio Commentary by Jeremiah Chechik; Deleted Scenes; Costume, Make-Up Test and Stunt Reel; Music Video and Theatrical Trailer.
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