In the movie, he is pulled over in 1969 because he is black and driving an expensive car. At the Four Season Hotel in L.A. where he and cast members were promoting MIB3, he let it be known how he feels about living in the 21st century.
“I’ve always loved time travel and for this movie to actually dive into it, I realized that for Black people you really don’t want to do too much jumping into the past. Right now is like the best it’s ever been. So like with the time dial, if I could go forward with it, that would be a great thing.
“The thing that I’ve learned in my extensive study of time travel [laughs],” Smith mused, “is that if you change one thing you change everything. I am absolutely ecstatic about where my life is right now so I wouldn’t mess with anything. Everything that I’ve experienced, everything that has gone right or wrong in my mind, has turned out to be all right. So I feel like that’s the nature of energy. My life as I sit here today is absolutely perfect, so I’m not messing with anything [laughs].”
The choice to travel in time is like any other decision that affects everything around you. Fortunately for Smith, he chooses to think about how his movies are perceived.
“For me there’s nothing more valuable than how people feel in a movie theater about the movie. So, with awards that’s never been important to me. That’s what a small group of people thinks. It’s the maximum amount of people that can have an experience that will give them some little gem of something to think about, or talk about is all that’s important to me in making movies. The adjustment I’m making in my career right now is the clarity of what we’re saying with the movies. There has to be an idea. There has to be some message or some statement. Just because it’s a popcorn movie doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say. And to me, that’s hugely important.”
Another subject touched upon in “MIB 3” is secrets. “In ‘Men in Black 3,’ we connected to the destructive nature of secrets,” Smith stated. “And that idea, whether you get that or not, when you look at it and think about it, it shows how a relationship can get repaired and go to another level through the exposure of a secret.”
The secret of which Smith speaks involves Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), that was initiated 1969. Josh Brolin plays Jones in 1969.
“Josh, coming into it that way, was amazing,” Smith declares. “He was able to deliver the same energy, and that was all Josh Brolin. People thought that Tommy Lee Jones did the voice for the Josh Brolin character. But Josh studied Tommy so thoroughly that it was almost identical. It was absolutely stunning. It’s crazy because you don’t really notice how good his acting is because you think you’re just watching Tommy Lee Jones. You don’t realize it’s actually Josh Brolin.”
Brolin makes an astounding debut into a franchise that Smith and Jones has gleaned into a multi-million dollar, international hit. But what fascinates Smith is the fact that his fans all over the world recognize him more for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
“What’s crazy for me is that the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. It’s like I’m the Fresh Prince everywhere in the world. It’s just amazing how that television show was really a stroke of luck. Because of the number of outlets for the show, 9-year-olds [now] think it’s new. So a 9-year-old kid in Moscow watching The Fresh Prince thinks it’s brand new when I show up. So the fresh prince has been a huge gift for me in that sense.”
So have your kids seen The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?
“Yes. Jaden wants to know how I was allowed to wear the clothes I wore.”
How do you manage your kids’ success?
“I love producing my kids and my wife’s TV show and all that. I think that’s my most natural space in the business. I would have to say if I just fell into what was most natural for me, it would be producing or editing. That’s where I thrive. But I mean it’s been three years that I’ve been off camera. And I just had to get back to work because Jaden really wants to make movies badly. And just at the dinner table, he got a little bit of a predatory look in his eyes. He is so coming for me. I tell him all the time, Son, I’m going to teach you everything that I know and if you work hard, you can be the second biggest movie star in the world [laughs].'”
What do you teach your kids about failure?
“Well, first and foremost is that the idea of failure is a label. It has no bearing on what actually happened. You know, what actually happened can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you if you decide that it’s the best thing that ever happened to you. So for me, the big thing with my kids is you have to control how you label things. They’re going to become what you say it is. You know, so it’s very important to me that they understand the power that they have to create the lives that they want.
Like, Willow for example, we’re getting flack for letting Willow cut her hair. It’s so obvious to me that you have a little girl, and how best can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. Now, she can’t cut my hair. You know what I mean? But that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. You know, so to me there are things like that. So when she goes out into the world she’s going out with a command that is hers, and you can’t just touch her body if she doesn’t want you to touch it because she’s used to it being hers and she’s used to making that decision for herself. So it’s more about lumping the responsibility on them for their lives, as much weight as they can hold without breaking. As many decisions as they can make without breaking. That’s what we try to keep giving them until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”
Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected].