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"Good Will"/USA Weekend Magazine


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Good Will

As Will Smith turns 40, the world's most beloved movie star considers his family, his future and his newfound mission.

By Dennis McCafferty

With the inauguration of Barack Obama set for Jan. 20, Smith says he's feeling "greater than I could imagine -- if I felt any better, it would be frightening." He first met Obama in 2005 in Louisiana, when he and wife Jada Pinkett Smith helped with the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Bill and Hillary Clinton were there, too.

"I met the man and knew he had 'it,' " Smith tells USA WEEKEND Magazine. "There wasn't any talk yet that he could actually be president. But you knew he had the very same quality as Bill Clinton has -- the power to walk into a room and energize everyone in it with some kind of magical quality that you can't touch or feel. You meet him, and it makes you want to be a better human being. And a better American."

Many might describe Smith that same way. One of Hollywood's few, true Movie Stars, he's riding a streak of eight straight movies that have made about $300 million each worldwide. Two recent ones, "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "I Am Legend," were considerably edgier and more dramatic than Smith's traditional popcorn fare -- and they were still hits.

But his newest film, "Seven Pounds," opening next Friday, is his biggest risk to date. It is a somber story of a tragic event that represents both an ending and a beginning for Smith's character, as well as those he encounters throughout the movie. (Warning to readers: Bring plenty of tissues.)

The serious themes -- love, death, the cycle of life -- resonate with Smith on a personal level. Having turned 40 on Sept. 25, the married father of three seems keenly aware of getting older and is ready to take on roles that explore the life experiences that come with approaching midlife. Sometimes real life blurs with the movies. Take his 11-year marriage to Pinkett Smith, which happens to be his second. "I have definitely become intrigued with the human response to loss, which is what drew me to this movie," he says. "The cycle of life is birth, life, death and rebirth. At least that's how it works if we allow ourselves to remain open to possibilities after death. I don't necessarily mean a literal death either. Death could mean anything, like a job firing. Or it could be what I faced when I got divorced. At first, I didn't think life could ever be good again. But I remained open to the possibility that it could. Then I met Jada, and then you experience a rebirth with a relationship like that. You got bumped and bruised along the way, but now you can't imagine how you lived your life before."

As he speaks, he's relaxing in Adidas shorts and a tank top in his office/library at home in Calabasas, Calif., 45 minutes west of Los Angeles. It overlooks a pristine man-made lake that Smith had built and dubbed "Her Lake," in honor of Pinkett Smith, who walks into the room and gives him a tiny smooch mid-interview on her way out to run errands. He'll soon be off to take Trey, his 16-year-old son from his first marriage, to high school football practice ("He's a wide receiver," the proud dad says, "and he's for real"). Smith is "currently unemployed," as he likes to say, and relishes four or five uninterrupted months at home to focus on his family, taking his two youngest children, Jaden, 10, and Willow, 8, to and from school.

It's a good life for a man who has always conveyed little doubt that he could achieve pretty much anything. But Smith is far from the happy-go-lucky yuckster of his alien-fighting days, more fully evolved than the wisecracking Fresh Prince we first encountered on TV in 1990.

"His maturity isn't surprising at all," says USA WEEKEND Contributing Editor Leonard Maltin, author of "Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide" and host of "Secret's Out" on the ReelzChannel. "Like other smart actors, he used his successful films as a bargaining chip to make riskier movies. He's telling his audience now, 'You like me. Now please trust me to take you in a different direction. I won't steer you wrong.' That's what he did with 'The Pursuit of Happyness,' and that's what he's doing with 'Seven Pounds.'"

Smith's onscreen growth seems to parallel his personal growth. Several months before turning 40, he took out a Sharpie and wrote a constitution for himself and his family in a Gucci bound notebook -- inspired, he explains, by the nation's Founding Fathers.

Article 1: Make everyone we meet a better person.

"That goes back to my grandmother," he says. "She'd take me to our Baptist church in Philadelphia when I was growing up, and I realized that she was always smiling. I asked her why. She said, 'It's because I know why I'm here. I have to make everything better for everyone.' Then she touched my hand, and it moved me. She said, 'See? Everything seems better now, doesn't it?' I never forgot that."

Smith's attitude impressed actress Rosario Dawson, his love interest in "Seven Pounds."

"If you mentiona great book you read lately to him, he makes a point of wanting to write the title down so he can sit down with it," Dawson says. "We grew up very similarly. I was raised with a big family and a lot of people, like he was. You can see this upbringing with him in how he treats other people. Remember that this was a guy who started out as the rapper who didn't curse, whose music was actually kinda sweet."

But Smith is the first to admit he can get ticked off just like the next guy. Recently, he offers, he had a dinner business meeting scheduled at home. It was supposed to be a one-on-one affair. But the associate brought eight friends to Smith's house.

"To be honest, I was furious at first," Smith recalls. "I didn't invite those eight other people to my house. But then I thought about our new constitution and the principles, and I thought to myself, 'How can I make these eight people better than they were when they walked in my door?'

"So we set up eight additional plates for them, shared salmon and risotto and got to know each other. Everyone has the dragon of anger that comes up when these things happen, but I came back to the idea that we're here to make other people's lives better. Of course, it helped that I wasn't doing the cooking!"

And Smith is perfectly capable of reaching within his inner idiot and having a good time -- even if that means pulling a "punk'd" on his kids. "Yeah, I'll get a marker while they're asleep and paint a mustache on their face," he says. "When they get up, they'll walk around for a while before they even realize what they're wearing. They think I've gone too far when I do these things."

As for the upcoming holidays, Pinkett Smith will scour weather websites to find out where the best snowfall will be, and the family will head out for a vacation. "She just wants to be around snow for the holidays," Smith says. "Not me. I'll take Christmas in the Caribbean."

Then, the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president will follow in January. Ten years ago, Smith looked a USA WEEKEND writer in the eye and stated that he thought he could be president someday.

"I wasn't saying that I wanted to become president," he now says when reminded of his statement. "I meant that I sincerely believed it was possible for a man like me to become president."

But he could be president in the movies, at least, if it's up to Obama. The president-elect has said he'd choose Smith to play him onscreen. "That kind of movie could work," Smith says. "He's already provided a fantastic ending, hasn't he?"

Photograph by Kwaku Alston for USA WEEKEND

Hair: Pierce Austin; grooming: Judy Murdock; wardrobe styling: Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn Cover clothing: sweater and shirt by Ralph Lauren, cuff links from Platt BoutiqueInside clothing: sweater by Barneys Co-Op, shirt by Etro, jeans by Prada


cool little read, Will's too nice cause those people woulda got thrown off my property, lol@ him messing with the kids, he seems like a cool dad even though he may annoy them sometimes.

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