Interview

Book Review: Will

Written by Omair Alavi

Synopsis

Will Smith talks about his life, his entry into showbiz, and how he became the prince of a town called Bel-Air!

When The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Will Smith approached Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the launch of Planet Hollywood restaurant in Sydney, Australia in the mid-90s with a question ‘how do I become the biggest movie star in the world’, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who answered the young man. His words ‘Think of yourself as a politician running for Biggest Movie Star in the World’ changed Will Smith’s life, for he went on to become the very thing he wanted to be on the night he asked them for the key to success.

But even before Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice, Will Smith was on his way to stardom and this memoir Will details his ascent from a nobody to a somebody in style. Co-written with Mark Manson (yes, that Mark Manson!), these pages bring the unknown side of Will Smith forward, one that he had kept away from the world. He may be one of the biggest film stars in the world, who has been nominated for the Oscars thrice and if all goes well might win his first Academy Award on 28 March, but that Will is not the real Will. This book lets you meet that guy!

Will Smith begins the book in a Hollywood-style flashback where he and his younger brother were asked to build a wall themselves by their father so that they would know that no matter what challenges life throws at them, they would be able to handle them all. He then takes the story forward by discussing his parents, his siblings, his grandmother, and his adventures as a young man, as if he is talking to the readers face-to-face instead of them reading about him.

The real Will Smith may not have been much different from the ‘Fresh Prince’ character, but with his troubles at home, even he would have been surprised had he been told of his bright future. He discusses his ‘Daddio’s’ anger issues, his mother’s ability to stand up to his bullying, his sister’s mechanism to cope with the fighting, and his younger brother’s rebellious attitude at home. But he emphasises his own ‘cowardice’ that first led him to seek help from Magicker – an imaginary friend – and later finds acceptance as the funny man in the house, which led to his discovering his ‘talent’.

He also talks about two important people in his life whom he would never forget – his grandmother Gigi who was the human version of God for him, and his cousin Paul who introduced him to the world of hip-hop, one that Will would one day rule with his friend and collaborator DJ Jazzy Jeff. Yes, he was the same guy who played Jazz who appeared in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but more on that later, since before that iconic hit show, the two changed the world of music as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.

He then moved on to talk about his life as a light-hearted, story-telling rapper who didn’t support profanity because his Gigi didn’t approve of it. That’s why his first song became a huge hit while he was in high school, and despite not being approved of by ‘other’ rappers of the time, Will Smith sort of found his calling and joined hands with DJ Jazzy Jeff with whom they went onto conquer the world. Before becoming famous, he was bullied in the neighbourhood, and got injured on the first day of High School, but did that break him? No. For he went ahead and chose to skip college, for a career that has seen him become the biggest movie star in the world!

And then there is the very interesting story of how he became the prince of a town called Bel-Air. He thanks music producer Quincy Jones for believing in him when he himself didn’t and that launched his career as an actor. For six years, he was the coolest guy on the planet, kept Jazz close as a character on the show, and worked hard with his ‘TV Family’ to achieve stardom. He also reveals the truth behind the famous ‘hug’ scene in the series where he literally froze and forgot his lines before he was ‘revived’ by actor James Avery who played the indomitable Uncle Phil.

While the first half of the book deals with Will Smith’s personal life, the second half talks more about his movies, and how he came to be in so many successful ones. Yes, he forgets to mention that he was approached for Neo’s character in The Matrix, that he had an awesome time working with Gene Hackman, that he was the reason why actress Janet Hubert had to be replaced as Aunt Vivian in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but in Will’s words, ‘that’s cool my man.’ What he does mention is that it will Martin Lawrence who lured him in to play Mike Lowry in Bad Boys, that director Michael Bay wanted him to run without his shirt on in the career-making chase scene of the film, that Mohammad Ali himself asked him to play him onscreen, and that he got to meet Nelson Mandela due to Michael Mann’s Ali.

Technically, since the release of this book coincided with his latest flick Richard, Will Smith should have mentioned his recent hits Aladdin, Gemini Man, Spies in Disguise, and Bad Boys for Life. That way the audience would have been able to know the experience of filling in for the departed Robin Williams as the genie in the Arabian Nights tale, but Will chose to skip that part (maybe for the second edition) and gave a detailed report of his charity bungee jump from a helicopter, over the Grand Canyon on his 50th birthday. You will also not find anything about his and Jada’s widely-reported affairs, maybe to give this book a family look, although he did mention his past dalliances without blinking an eye.

As for the personal stuff in this book, you will find how Will Smith married his first wife Sheree Zampino, why they chose to go their separate ways after three years, and how he ended up sharing his life with Jada, who went on to become a successful actress herself. The interesting thing he mentions is that on the night he met his first wife Sheree, he was actually at the venue to meet Jada, who became the mother of his son Jaden and daughter Willow, who lives with his eldest son Willard, from his first wife.

Will is one of those memoirs that don’t need photographs to attract readers; in fact, the photographs here are to compliment the narrative, such is the pace of the text. If you have grown up watching Will Smith act, first on TV and later in films, or have been following his singing career, then this book has a nostalgic value for you. The part where he shares his experience of being declared the singer behind the number one song of the week for the first time, what made him go for James Lassiter as his manager, and which actor made him raise his fee, takes you back in the good old 90s.

For those who know less about Will Smith, this book serves as a platform to know about an actor whose work has transcended generations; who grew up in a tense household but became one of the few artists who could make others smile and cry at ‘will’; who loved his father for teaching him the right way, but made him consider suicide when he was 13; and who had to sell everything to pay the debts he had no clue were mounting on him when he was just a rapper. Read on, before Will Smith adds another feather to his crown, and the book goes out of print!

About the author

Omair Alavi