Will Smith has come a loooooong way since the days of telling us that “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”  He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (his classic album, yes – album, with partner, DJ Jazzy Jeff) produced some of my favorite songs of all time (and, yes, I still have the album,) but Mr. Smith is no longer the Fresh Prince.  He’s matured into a King.  Husband. Father. Movie Star. Philanthropist. World Citizen.   Will Smith has become all that and more – and it hasn’t been by accident.  Below is an article from USA Today which offers us some insight into how and why this transformation occurred.  I believe that these seven points can be applied to any one, in some variation.  It’s a quick read but nonetheless inspirational. Take from it what you will.

                                                                                    

willsmithx‘Seven Pounds,’ Seven Keys to Will Smith’s Success

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Will Smith, photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, plays an IRS agent on a quest for redemption in Seven Pounds, opening Friday.

By Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY
NEW YORK — Spend seven seconds sitting across from Will Smith, and you’ll never wonder why he’s a superstar.

He’s charming and attentive, observant and clever — without ever seeming to try. When he talks, he makes eye contact; when he laughs, it takes over his whole body.

“You gonna put that in the article, that you’re playing footsie?” cracks Smith after feet collide under a table at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Though he seems happy-go-lucky, the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn’t end up where he is by accident. Like Ben Thomas, the painfully orderly and painstakingly wary IRS agent he plays in Seven Pounds, opening Friday, Smith, 40, is consistently in charge, on point and thinking ahead.

“That’s one of the elements that attracted me to this idea — how much control you can have over your life, but how much you don’t have once you relinquish it,” he says. “I make choices in my life after working on this film. I found myself walking down the stairs and it’s raining, and I found myself grabbing extra-hard on the railing. Just think, one slip — and that’s it. You have to be conscious. You don’t have control after you’ve set these dominoes in motion. Your control point is before you make this crucial mistake.”

Seven Pounds may have made him think consciously about navigating slippery steps with care, but he has nurtured his career with nary a misstep, amassing $2.45 billion in box office in North America alone. Here’s how he does it:

1. Think globally

Any film Smith makes, as a star or through his Overbrook production company, “has to be extraordinary, it has to be entertainment, it has to be art.” And be “delivered to all people of the world.”

Not every film fits neatly into that mold, including Seven Pounds, a non-linear story about his character making amends that has a shocking ending. It’s “a bit of a stretch for us. The extraordinary entertainment art is easy, but because you can’t actually talk about the movie, the delivery to all people of the world is slightly more difficult,” Smith says.

He thinks about pitching everywhere from Peoria to Paris from the start. “If we don’t know how to sell it, we’re not going to begin — no matter how extraordinary I think the entertainment art is going to be. All I need is one visual, and I can sell that anywhere on Earth.”

2. Talent at the top

Smith handpicks his directors. For Seven Pounds, he’s re-teaming with Gabriele Muccino, who directed him to an Oscar nomination for 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness. The holiday hit starred Smith as a homeless man who breaks into the elite world of finance.

“He takes me to places that I’d never choose myself,” Smith says. “It will be the biggest departures from who I am when I work with Gabriele. He sees me similarly as Michael Mann (Ali) does. He knows all my tricks. They erase all the Will Smith-ness.”

Muccino, for instance, went so far as to alter the way Smith naturally makes eye contact. Smith’s Ben Thomas never looks away, almost glares.

“He’s trying to look under people’s masks,” says Smith. “I’m physically trying to look under people’s masks. For me, it’s a common courtesy to look away for a second when you’re talking and you let people have their privacy for a second. This character never breaks eye contact. It’s uncomfortable for me.”

3. Mix it up, to a point

For every bombastic audience pleaser like Hancock, Smith tries also to release a more thought-provoking film like Seven Pounds.

“I have to challenge myself and push myself,” Smith says. “My only job is to make sure I don’t leave anything on the table, that I maximize what a young dude from Philly can do in the world of cinema. There’s no telling what I can create at this point.”

Two scripts he’d love to star in that Overbrook is developing are the stories of Nelson Mandela and Marvin Gaye.

“I’m not certain I’m actor enough yet,” Smith admits. “I love both of those, and I need to make sure I’m man enough.”

4. Preserve the Smith brand

Smith doesn’t get busted for DUIs or punch or scream at paparazzi. “Not any more, not any more,” he jokes.

His parents and grandmother instilled in him the belief that with privileges comes responsibility. Smith doesn’t moan about the attention he gets, kvetch about the lack of privacy or lash out at reporters for asking personal questions.

“By being famous, you’re afforded rights that other people who aren’t famous aren’t afforded,” he says. “If I’m going to walk to the front of the line (at the restaurant) because I’m Will Smith, then I have to sign all the autographs. If I don’t want to sign any autographs, I don’t walk to the front of the line. It’s that simple. Stand in the line with everybody else.”

His image remains one of the most unblemished in Hollywood. The only question that surfaces is whether, because of his close friendship with outspoken Scientologist Tom Cruise, he, too, is a member of the controversial church. Smith repeatedly has denied it, saying he’s a student of all religions.

Hitch co-star Eva Mendes says that off-screen, Smith is a bit racier than the clean-cut guy most people see. “He’s funnier in person because his jokes get a little more daring. To this day, he doesn’t call me Eva. He calls me Reva Melendez. He has this character he does named Redondo, an interviewer who never gets anyone’s names right.”

5. Cross color lines

With the exception of 2001’s Ali (his other Oscar nomination), most of Smith’s roles could have been played by him or Brad Pitt or Robert Downey Jr. The IRS agent he plays in Seven Pounds could have very easily been Caucasian, as could the bitter superhero in Hancock.

And that has been by design. Growing up in Philadelphia, Smith attended a mostly white Catholic elementary school and a mostly African-American high school. He lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, attended a Baptist church and admired the Muslim girls who lived one street over.

Along the way, Smith learned that laughter is collective and unifying. “Those universal elements became really clear in my experiences growing up.”

Race is not something Smith dwells on in interviews, and it’s not something often addressed in his films. “Being an American, this is the only place on Earth I’m even possible. My life is not possible anywhere else,” he says.

It’s a sentiment often echoed by President-elect Barack Obama, with whom Smith identifies.

On Election Day, Smith says, he didn’t even have a beer. “I wanted to be totally sober. I wanted to see and feel and remember everything. The whole family was there. It was really fantastic — either way I knew it would be a historical evening. I wanted to be there and be aware,” he says.

6. Be master of your domain

Eighteen years ago, Smith charmed audiences as the fast-talking, appealingly glib Fresh Prince. Today, his films gross an average $136 million. And Smith says he finally feels he’s starting to own his profession.

“I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and he talks about the concept of 10,000 hours. That you don’t really settle into any level of mastery until 10,000 hours, and I feel like I’ve just completed my 10,000 hours of story structure and filmmaking.

“Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist, which is my favorite book, he talks about the whole of the universe, and it’s contained in one grain of sand. For years I’ve been saying that, and now it’s really starting to expose itself to me. My own grain of sand has been story. The next 10 years will be my peak of innovation in filmmaking and just as a human being.”

Since 1996’s blockbuster Independence Day, Smith has generated a movie a year, sometimes two. When he signs on, he’s fully committed.

“He’s very firm with his own ideas and considerations about things,” Muccino says. “He doesn’t change his mind easily. If he says no, it’s no. If he says yes, it’s yes. He’s a man of his word. In Italy we call them men of honor.”

7. Leave nothing to chance

That includes his 11-year marriage to Jada Pinkett, with whom he has two kids: son Jaden, 10, and daughter Willow, 8. Smith also has son Trey, 16, from his first marriage.

“We did a business plan,” Smith says. “Listen, everyone should do a marriage business plan. Why are you together? What’s the point? Because he’s cute? That’s not going to hold up. It can’t just be sex and somebody can cook. That’s a really good purpose, but not for 40 years. Jada and I have connected to the purpose of our relationship, to teach and to continually learn about human interaction. Our marriage will have purpose for other married people.”

Smith always wants to know the conclusion. Because if you know the end, you know precisely where you’re going and how you’re getting there.

“Jada and I sat down and asked, ‘Where do we see ourselves?’ We went to 40 years from now. We see ourselves some place where there are seasons. That’s a big thing for Jada. We think there’s mountains. We think we live on a golf course. We don’t have more children — we have grandchildren.

“We are the greatest philanthropists that America has ever seen. We’re going to try and get up there with Bill and Melinda Gates. We talked through all the elements of where we want to be so we can start, in this moment, designing our life toward that.”

Yes, Will Smith has a plan for everything. But for people like Mendes, his success is the result of something that doesn’t need so much preparation.

“Of course he’s talented, of course he’s sexy, of course he’s got a body to die for, but who cares?” she says. “He’s so full of light. We all want to be next to him and root for him. People want to be around it. He’s a light force.”

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