Working mom Jada Pinkett Smith took some time off the set of Madagascar 2 to share insights about her relationship with husband Will Smith, her family's hectic life in the limelight, and how they hold it all together.
You are an actress, model, frontwoman of your own heavy-metal band [Wicked Wisdom], and a busy mom to boot. How do you balance your personal life with your family life? How do your kids feel about it all?
Oh, they love it. My children are very strong. My husband is very strong. So, it all balances out, you know?
It's kind of cool, because there's certain areas where I'm not so strong that my husband is. It makes for a really fantastic partnership. And then my kids have two parents that they can lean on completely, and kind of learn from. And yet, they have their own strengths. So, it works out.
Sounds like the ideal family situation.
It really does. I mean, sometimes you get your clashes, but that's with any dynamic.
Have you and Will talked about the kids having their own careers in the spotlight? Is that something that you would like for them to pursue?
I don't know. I know it's something they want to do now. I don't know if it's something that [they'll want] as they go on and the parental world starts to fall away.
They kind of have to start doing this alone, if this is something that they will want to continue to do. That part I don't know. But I do know that it's a good experience for them right now, and that we are in a position that we can protect them from certain things. And because we know this industry very well, they've learned a lot.
Now they know what it means to work and make your own money and spend your own money. And the hard work it takes to make money. Now they understand what Mommy and Daddy do. So, they have much more appreciation.
When they know we're going to work, they know what that means. When they see us on the red carpet, they know that that's work, not playtime. It looks like play time but it's not play time. So, now, we share this kind of reality together, which is really, really nice. When you can have kinds that are like, 'How was your day, Mommy? Are you okay?' it's great. And so, we'll see [what happens] as they get older. For all I know, my son'll be like, 'Forget it. I'm moving to Hawaii to become a professional surfer.'
Do you and Will set any kind of parameters for your kids when it comes to various roles or even just school and "normal" things to make sure they experience both sides of the coin?
I'm always very careful with what group they work with. Very careful. It's like we do our own kind of interviewing process. It's like, okay, Jaden and Willow might be interviewing. But I'm sitting there thinking, 'Do I really want this person dealing with my child?' or 'Does this person really like kids?'
And you know, they've got to have a good time on the set and blah, blah, blah. We've been really lucky they've had the opportunity to work with really fantastic teams. But I'm very on top of things and protective of who has their hands on my children in the work environment.
Can you let us in on who is part of your mom-tourage? Who's there for you to lean on when everyday life gets overwhelming?
Ah, such a great, great question, because I have a lot of family.
My mother, I would have to say is probably the core person, because she travels with me everywhere. So, if the kids are working, she's with me on the set. And, if I'm not on the set, my mother is on the set. If Will's not on the set, my mother's on the set, and my mother is a soldier. 'No, he cannot have candy,' she'll say. Or, 'Jaden, you still have two hours of school you have to do.' She's even more structured than I am, so she keeps me in line. I like having her around.
Then I have Myrna. She's been with my family now for 15 years. And Daisy, too. Daisy actually helped raise my [step]son Trey. She's been a part of our family for 16 years. We have quite a nice little tribe, including Will's mom, who comes out and helps sometimes. And then I have my girlfriend, Vonne who's been my friend for twenty years. She's on the set with me a lot of the time. We're always surrounded by family.
With so much family around, is it hard to squeeze in some alone time for just you and Will to regroup and reconnect?
It used to be, but it's not anymore. I really just take the time to say 'Mommy's out.' You know, to just have quiet time. That type of time is very valuable and it's very important because as women, we put out so much, so important that we plug in somewhere.
A lot of times, people try to make it seem as though that's not important, like you've just got to give, give, give, give. And, if you don't, then that makes you a bad mom and a bad person, if you even want to take a sliver of time for yourself.
What I've learned is that I'm a much better mother and a much better wife when I have time to be able to go and just collect myself. My husband has learned and my kids have learned, and receive the rewards of Mommy having time to herself. It's clear in the household, you know? It's just clear. It's not fun when Mommy goes away. My husband's like, 'Oooh, I don't know,' and the kids are like, 'Mommy, don't leave.' But once I come back and I'm ready, they're inside, so it's all good.
Do you and Will try to delegate or balance out commitments so that one parent is always at home?
We do try to balance it. Sometimes it becomes difficult, but if he's working, then I definitely try not to have anybody else in the family working. And if I'm working I usually like for the kids to be with me. Then Will will come out and my mom comes out. So, we just kind of figure it out. But we definitely like to separate the working time.
Do your kids thinks it's a big deal to be in the celebrity spotlight?
You know what? It's funny, because since they've grown up in it it's not something new. It's interesting, because they watch how their parents deal with celebrity, and I believe that kids learn more from observing. So, just watching our behavior is a good experience, it's just part of what we do.
They don't get all kinds of attention either. Jaden is probably getting really recognized because of his hair - that's his thing. It's bush boy. He's got the curly, bushy hair. But he's very respectful, and when he's with his family, it's like, 'You know what? I can't do it right now, 'cause this is family time. But thank you so much for asking me.'
Just teaching the kids to listen and know that they'll always have the respect and understanding of their family. The blessing that comes with that is important. The fact that people admire what you do enough to want to come up to you and shake your hand and get to know who you are is important, too. You have a certain amount of responsibility for that person. Even if you can't give the person an autograph at that time, we've taught them to please leave that person with a smile and a wonderful feeling.
It's important to understand that with this gift [of talent] there's a responsibility that we, as a family, have to the public, which is like, we're here to make people's lives better. Understanding that, they understand the power and the responsibility of their celebrity, and that they are here to serve and not to be served.
What's your take on the paparazzi? They seem to go to great lengths to get shots of celebrity children.
I think that part is really unfortunate. I think that parents should have a right to make a decision of whether their children should be photographed. There are some people who don't want to have their kids photographed for all different types of reasons. There are all types of crazy people in the world and what have you. As a parent, you should be able to have that privacy. That the child itself is born into the world and just because the child is born to a celebrity doesn't necessarily mean that child is choosing to have that celebrity life.
It's difficult, but I also feel like I've found in my own personal relationships with paparazzi, having communication with them is helpful. They get it, you know what I mean? I never try to play the whole, 'Let's run and get away,' and all that, because that creates more hysteria. It's like, 'Listen. We'll give you a picture. This is family time. Can you really just respect?' There's only a few assholes out there that are just completely like, 'No.' But most of them, for real, will give you the space.
Now, when we see paparazzi, they'll say, 'Hey, Jada, Will. Is it okay? We just wanna take one shot.' And it's like,'Okay, guys. Take your picture and then be on your way,' you know what I mean? And they're usually very respectful. We haven't had any outrageous problems with paparazzi.
Does it bother you if a photograph will be sold for personal gain instead of the profits going to charity?
I feel like it can work both ways. I feel like some of that comes as a part of being in the public eye, and I feel like it's almost like the Nile River. To be able to say what part of the Nile River people deserve to have doesn't make sense. It's just part of the flow of existence.
I feel like I've been blessed so much that someone could take a picture of me and eat. I don't see that as a crime. But that's just me, personally. Like I said, we stay in communication with the paparazzi. But I feel like God's blessed me in a way that the blessings are just overflowing, so I'm willing to share that. I don't have a problem with that.
What did the kids think of the first Madagascar movie? Did they like your character?
They did. They loved it. My oldest son did, and I was really shocked. It was all, 'Mom, I want to bring my friends over and I want to screen Madagascar.' I'm like, 'Are you serious?'
So, that was a, quite a joy on the first one, because I was expecting the little ones to love it, not my 13 year old. Will was like, 'Whoa." Stand in the cool box with the teenager.' So, that was cool.
Did you like animated movies or cartoons when you were growing up?
I liked Mighty Mouse. I liked Popeye. I liked Snow White, the
animated film. What else did I like? Tom and Jerry, I liked them a
lot. Daffy Duck. The Road Runner. All the classics. Basically just
There are a lot of new characters in this movie. Which ones are your favorites?
I like Alex's parents. The Bernie Mac character, to me, was just
Did you get to interact with Bernie at all?
I didn't. Not on this particular one. But I know Bernie, and
it's funny, beause I'd seen the movie the day before he passed, and
I didn't know he was in the hospital. I said, 'Oh, man, I've got to
reach out to Bernie.' And then I looked the next morning, and
my husband said Bernie passed. So, that was unfortunate. But
I did have the opportunity to know him. He's a great guy.
Do you have a favorite memory of him?
Bernie was just always so real and always so humble. He was funny. He was laidback. He was just a joy to always be around.
Convonista says: Jada Pinket Smith took the time to chat with me in ealry 2008. This interview was originally released a few weeks later.
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.