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Sex, psychedelics and murderous impulses: Do we know too much about Will Smith?

The Men in Black star and his wife Jada have become Hollywood’s most enthusiastic answerers of deeply personal questions nobody asked. It’s certainly refreshing, writes Adam White, but is it actively harming their ability to disappear into movie roles?

Sunday 07 November 2021 15:33
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<p>A whole lot of talking: the newly candid Will Smith in 2019</p>

A whole lot of talking: the newly candid Will Smith in 2019

I worry I know too much about Will Smith. I know that he drew up a list of beautiful women he wanted to invite into his own personal harem, and that Halle Berry was one of them. I know that he and his wife, the actor Jada Pinkett Smith, were at one point so miserable together that they decided to have an open relationship, and that Pinkett Smith had a brief fling with a rapper named August Alsina. I know that Smith once contemplated pushing his wheelchair-bound father down the stairs as retaliation for the abuse he enacted on his mother as a child. Off the top of my head, I don’t know when Smith had his last bowel movement, but I imagine it’s easy to find out if I did a quick Google search.

For the past few years – and ever since Pinkett Smith launched her confessional, hot-button-pushing Facebook chat show Red Table Talk – the Smith family have been our most foremost celebrity truth-tellers, answering probing and deeply personal questions that no one was especially asking. Pinkett Smith has revealed that her husband doesn’t always know how to sexually satisfy her, has discussed the success of her non-surgical vaginal rejuvenation, her former addictions to alcohol, ecstasy, cannabis, sex and pornography, and how she absolutely isn’t a Scientologist.

Smith, meanwhile, has confessed the following: that he was deeply jealous of his wife’s friendship with the late Tupac Shakur; that he once went too method and fell madly in love with his one-time co-star Stockard Channing; and that he had a midlife crisis leading to weeks of solitude, international travel and experimentation with ayahuasca. In the trailer for Smith’s forthcoming YouTube docuseries, which chronicles his weight gain and subsequent health and exercise journey, he reveals he once considered suicide.

Such openness stems, at least according to Pinkett Smith, from a healthy place. She told NPR in 2019 that – after working substantially on her marriage and her own mental health – she came to believe that healing can only come with total frankness. “I just realised that in part of my growth, the women and the people who had the courage to be very transparent with me with certain aspects of their journey really, really helped my journey tremendously,” she said. “I was like: why don’t we talk about this more often? Why is it such a secret of what people go through?”

But in a time when the biggest A-listers tend to divulge very little about their politics or sex lives, as a result rendering many a celebrity profile thuddingly anodyne, this is refreshing if incredibly weird. There is something excitingly free-wheeling about the Smith family – Red Table Talk, especially, is one of the few celebrity-fronted side hustles to make good on its promise of actual candidness – but it also leaves them slightly exhausting as people. Every few weeks, but particularly amid the November releases of Smith’s new memoir and his Oscar-tipped film King Richard, fresh personal revelations seem to spring forth, so much that it’s almost become a running joke. “Everything I know about Jada and Will’s marriage I learnt without my consent,” read one viral tweet last month.

They’ve undoubtedly been humanised, and I’m sure many will have felt comforted by the pair’s refusal to bend to slightly unrealistic expectations of monogamy, marriage and family. It’s a good thing, after all, to see one of the world’s most famous couples admit that, actually, long-term relationships can be really hard to navigate. It does mean, though, that it’s harder for Smith and Pinkett Smith to disappear anymore. We know so much about them as people that seeing them play somebody else onscreen – as in King Richard, or the forthcoming Matrix Resurrections, in which Pinkett Smith reprises her role from the original trilogy – becomes less convincing.

The Smiths are no longer untouchable movie stars exuding glamour and mystery, but middle-aged norms with just as many sexual hang-ups and bits of psychologically acrimony as you have. That’s probably been the point of all of this – particularly when the specifics of the Smiths’ marriage always seemed to be gossiped about when they stayed quiet about it – but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing as a fan of their acting. When I see Will Smith in a movie, I want to be swept up in his performance. I don’t want to wonder if it was filmed before or after he – as a dubious treat for his wife’s birthday – tracked down the descendants of the white family that once owned her ancestors.

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