The aforementioned episode was filmed in January, two months before the Oscars. Smith hit presenter Chris Rock at the movie awards after the comic compared Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, to Demi Moore in “G.I. Jane.” Smith has alopecia.
You might smirk when Letterman compliments Smith as “reflective” or introduces him to an audience at Los Angeles’ The Comedy Store as “America’s friend.” You might also wince when Smith, who portrayed legendary boxer Muhammad Ali in a 2001 biopic, gives Letterman tips on fighting, or when he playfully tells Letterman, “Don’t say nothing bout my mother, Dave,” when the conversation turns to Smith’s mom, Caroline Bright.
There is no question that Smith was wrong when he assaulted Rock. Smith has apologized to Rock publicly, admitting he was out of line.
“I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be,” he wrote. “There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.” Smith also apologized to The Academy, resigned and has been banned from Academy events for a decade.
It’s simple to pick out things to criticize in Smith and Letterman’s discussion after the fact. What if your higher self didn’t seek for the easy low-hanging fruit? To me, the interview wonderfully captures how complex and layered we are, as well as reminding us that no one is flawless, not even one of us entirely good or bad. It explores a person’s life rather than focusing on a regrettable moment.
When discussing his November book “Will,” Will Smith explains that he lacked bravery. “The first line of the first chapter is, ‘I’ve always thought of myself as a coward,’” Smith tells Letterman. “When I was 9 years old, I saw my father beat up my mother, and I didn’t do anything. And that just left a traumatic impression of myself as a coward.” (Could a desire to replace that narrative with one of hero have played a role in The Slap? I can’t help but wonder.)
Smith also has wise words for the career-obsessed and perfectionists. His father and namesake, he tells Letterman, instilled in him that “99% is the same as zero,” which Smith was finally able to shake in counseling. His therapist told him, “Mathematically, 99% is almost as far from zero as you could get.”
Smith learned, as he relentlessly pursued box-office success, that “When you set your sights on material success, there actually is nothing that’s enough. No. 1 movies were much more of an addiction than they were a fulfilling, emotional endeavor,” he explains. “I wanted to be the best, but I correlated being the best with being able to have the love in my life that would make me feel safe.”
Examining his life has enhanced his acting talents, according to Smith.
“Life is so exciting to me right now, because I can reach people differently than I’ve ever been able to reach people, largely because of my pain,” he says. “I’m really ready to dive into my art in a way that I think will be hopefully fulfilling for me and helpful for the human family.”
While our interview happened months before the infamous slap, I’m guessing Smith would embrace it if it could serve as a cautionary tale.
“If there’s an opportunity that I can help someone avoid a pitfall, or I can help someone achieve their dreams, I want to do that,” said Smith. “It’s like, what else is there for me to do with my life other than offer it to fan the flames of other people’s dreams, or to use as a warning sign for a potentially destructive road?”
Roads can lead to different outcomes. Sometimes they lead to bad things, but other times they lead to good things. I hope that Smith’s life- the good and the bad- will make the outcome for him a good one.
Covering superheroes, anything dark, horror, and more! Lead writer for Fan Fest