Remember when Will Smith was nominated for an Oscar for Ali but he and wife Jada Pinkett Smith disappeared from the ceremony before the Best Actor category was announced? The couple had gotten word that their daughter, Willow, was running a high fever, and they didn't think twice about missing their moment in the spotlight. "It wasn't even a question of whether we would leave," she says now. "It was a question of how fast we could get out of there. The priority in our relationship is family. That's already been established. Everything else is secondary, so it wasn't a big deal for us."
After years of marriage and three kids (Jaden and Willow, plus Trey, from Will's first marriage), the Smiths' lives still revolve around the needs of what Jada refers to as "a huge community of extended family." They juggle acting assignments -- Jada is voicing a hippo in Madagascar, a summer 2005 animated movie release co-starring Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, and Will's romantic comedy Hitch debuted just before Valentine's Day -- and serve as executive producers of the UPN-TV series All of Us, a comedy loosely based on their own blended family.
Now the actress, best known for her roles in the second and third Matrix films, Collateral, and The Nutty Professor, can add "author" to her resume: This month, Scholastic will release her first book for children, Girls Hold Up This World, with photographs by Donyell Kennedy-McCullough. A poem that celebrates the special gifts of young women, Jada's text challenges girls to do their best and live with pride. "Kindness takes hard work -- this is a lifelong lesson," she writes. "Give from your heart, and each day will be a blessing." The book is very much a family affair: Willow poses with her mom on the cover, Jada's mother, Adrienne Jones, is featured inside, and the dedication page includes a striking portrait of Jada's late grandmother, Marion.
At Child's cover shoot in Los Angeles, Jada and her friendly, sweet-natured kids were accompanied by the Smiths' longtime nanny, who spoke fondly of Will and Jada's dedication as parents. Jada's love of family was evident as she chatted about her writing and her busy, kid-centered life.
Why did you decide to write a book especially for young girls?
I lived with a lot of women when I was growing up -- my grandmother, my mother, and my aunt -- and there were some basic principles instilled in me as a young girl that I wanted to express. I felt there weren't any books that connected to my experiences.
What message did you want to convey?
Don't be afraid to be you. Know that you are exceptional. You can do anything if you believe in it and are motivated to work for it. That's a message I feel that young girls often don't get. We spend a lot of time trying to live up to someone else's ideas of who we should be.
What qualities do you admire most in your mother and your grandmother?
Their endurance and integrity. My grandmother was a doer who wanted to create a better community and add beauty to the world. She was a social worker and one of the first people to bring sex education into the school system in Baltimore. I remember she started a flower-arranging club and a gardening club at my school. She helped one of the first black mayors in America get elected. My mom is a nurse, and she and I did a lot of growing up together because she was a young mom. She has a great relationship with my kids and travels a lot with us when we're working.
Do you feel that girls have different self-image issues than boys?
Absolutely. I think sometimes our young girls feel as if they have to become more masculine in order to be noticed. I try to help my daughter realize that there is strength in being a girl. As the book says, we girls play our part in holding up the world.
Is Willow close to her brothers?
Oh, she loves her brothers. She's the only girl in the family, and they absolutely adore her. They're very protective of her.
Are any of the kids interested in acting?
Both of the boys have done little projects here and there [including guest roles on All of Us]. If they want to perform, they have our blessing, and if they don't, they have our blessing. I just want them to do what makes them happy.
Is it true that they are homeschooled?
Trey goes to a private school, but we home-school Willow and Jaden. We have tutors and a little schoolroom with other children so they can travel with me and their dad. They love it.
You once told an interviewer, "You can't have two superstars in the family." When you married Will, did you feel you had to alter your own ambitions?
I had to get in touch with what my ambitions really were, and [being a huge star] was never my goal. It's something I wanted for Will, and when we first got together, Will said, "I think you can be the biggest actress in the world." But I'm content with doing projects that speak to my soul. I'm not always interested in mainstream movies and doing all the things I would have to do in order to fit that picture [of superstardom]. And it would create a major imbalance in my household. That's not to say some other couple can't do it, but the Smiths can't! He's the dynamic energy of this family and I am the internal magnetic energy. That's what makes it all work.
One thing I have learned is that women really can have it all. When I first had a family, I believed that I had to be a stay-at-home mom. I've gone through many transitions to figure out what I can and can't be -- and as of right now, I can be a lot of things.
Is it a challenge to keep your kids grounded and give them a normal life?
If you're stable and grounded yourself, it really isn't that difficult. Will and I might not always be able to go to Disneyland or to the movies with the kids; we want them to see the reality of life and have a normal experience of having to stand in line and get tickets. But as far as who they are as individuals, it's not difficult.
You and Will have a foundation that helps children who live in Baltimore and Philadelphia, where you grew up. Do your kids get involved?
Oh, they have to! That's part of what we do as a family: Giving back is a must. At least once every three months, the kids visit an orphanage or a homeless shelter or a nursing home and sit down with the families and children. My kids are very willing to give things away because they understand that they have such abundance; they don't have to hoard. They choose things they've outgrown or have lost interest in and we collect them to donate to others. That's just part of our lifestyle. We also have a huge community of extended family and friends, so our home and our resources are used by a lot of people.
Do you and Will want more children?
No, my plate is very full. Trey is 12, I have a 15-year-old nephew and a 14-year-old goddaughter who live with us, I have Jaden and Willow, and I'm about to have another nephew who's 7 come and stay for a while. There are children in my family and in my community who need our love and assistance and attention.
Your house must be busy on the weekend!
All those kids also have their friends over, so we usually have at least eight children running around playing basketball or video games. Last weekend, we had a boys' night and took all the boys with us to screen one of Will's new movies. Our house is always active.
Is Will like his film persona? Audiences think of him as the greatest guy on earth.
Well, he is. He's a happy man. It's rare to find people who are truly happy. He's in sync with the universe, and he creates a lot of joy for a lot of people. It's not a gimmick -- he knows how to be happy.
What are your hopes for your children's future?
I just want to have happy kids who live with a sense of integrity. I have no control over what they decide to do or who they decide to marry. All I can do is help create a foundation so that they can know how to find happiness.
Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the March 2005 issue of Child Magazine.