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Will Smith On Freedom In Marriage With Jada & Why Their Relationship "Can't Be A Prison"

"I don't suggest this road for anybody."

Celebrity News

When I think about Will Smith's career, I'm kind of at a loss for words. I mean, he starred in major movies like Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men in Black. Then, gave us motivational art through Ali, Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend. Not to mention, as a master of his life and career, he turned down roles Django Unchained and The Matrix, two major successes. Can you imagine having a career that successful? Where you can define the bags you need versus what bags need you? And as time progresses, the 53-year-old only continues to adapt and flourish. During the production of Apple TV's Emancipation, Smith had a beautiful conversation with GQ to discuss the film and his upcoming memoir, Will.


Emancipation is different from typical projects we've seen him in since he's always seemed to stay away from films discussing slavery. He told GQ:

"I didn't want to show Black people in that light. I wanted to be a superhero. So I wanted to depict Black excellence alongside my white counterparts... This [Emancipation] was one that was about love and the power of Black love. That was something that I could rock with. We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible."

The big screen isn't the only place we'll be seeing something new from the King Richard star. His memoir, which will be released in November, reveals a different version of himself.

"I just really wanted to totally destroy the clinging to 'Will Smith, I'm trying to separate the image of Will Smith from who I actually am."

During the interview, Smith explained how his struggle with perfection and need "to be the biggest movie star in the world" fueled his career success but stifled his personal relationships and caused contention in his marriage. For example, he details how Jada never wanted a traditional wedding but he pressured her until she gave in. He admits:

"This would be the first of many compromises Jada would make over the years that painfully negated her own values."

His relationship wasn't the only strained area in his life. His need to please people and be the character of himself that he had created, was emotionally harming him. In a draft of his book he writes, "Will Smith,' the alien annihilating M.C., the bigger-than-life movie star, is largely a construction—a carefully crafted and honed character—designed to protect myself."

At nine years old, Will Smith saw his father aggressively punch his mother in the side of her head. He recalls his brother trying to fight back and his sister running away to hide. However, he was frozen in fear. And that moment in some part changed the trajectory of his life. For years after, he felt the need to people-please, to make sure that others around him were entertained so they wouldn't respond negatively or violently.

He also felt by making his mother proud, he was somehow apologizing for the day he couldn't stand up for her. Smith admits that he would never have been able to share this truth when his father was alive and has a great deal of affection for him.

"He was one of the greatest blessings of my life, and also one of my greatest sources of pain."

Many of his values about loyalty and ambition come from his father. These emotions stuck with him for decades even as his career soared. It wasn't until his 50's when he went on an emotional journey that his mindset started to shift.

Smith spent time in solitude traveling to Utah, visited Peru for ayahuasca rituals, and even met with an intimacy coach where he confessed that he'd be very happy leading a harem.

"The idea of traveling with 20 women that I loved and took care of and all of that, it seemed like a really great idea."

He even name-dropped a few women who he'd like to be a part of it, such as Misty Copeland and Halle Berry. Although after healthy conversations with the coach, he realized that probably wouldn't work. "After we played it out a little bit, I was like, 'That would be horrific.'"

Speaking of women, we'd be remiss if we didn't discuss his beautiful wife Jada Pinkett Smith and the highs and lows of their relationship. After a viral episode of Red Table Talk, where the couple discussed Jada's infidelity, many were curious about where the couple currently stands. And while he admits major struggles in the past, it seems like the two are in a happy place now. He tells GQ:

"We have given each other trust and freedom, with the belief that everybody has to find their own way. And marriage for us can't be a prison. And I don't suggest our road for anybody. (He repeats) I don't suggest this road for anybody. But the experiences that the freedoms that we've given one another and the unconditional support, to me, is the highest definition of love."

Today, Will is embracing a whole new mindset by embracing social media. Because as we know, being perfect is kinda boring online. His freedom of authenticity and truth in his creative endeavors and relationship has him feeling a new level of freedom and happiness:

"The pursuit of truth is the only way to be happy in this lifetime."

Will is now available for pre-order worldwide. Read the full cover story on GQ here.

Featured image by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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