Will Smith came up with the story for M. Night Shyamalan’s postapocalyptic drama After Earth, which opens May 31, while watching his son Jaden, 14, film The Karate Kid in China. The premise: A father is a best-in-class soldier who crash-lands with his son on a hostile planet Earth a thousand years in the future. The father, wounded, must watch from the sidelines as the son navigates treacherous terrain and fights terrible creatures in order to escape. The parallels to their adventures in Hollywood, Will says, are obvious.
I’ve read that you believe life can be understood through patterns.
Will: I’m a student of patterns. At heart, I’m a physicist. I look at everything in my life as trying to find the single equation, the theory of everything.
Do you think there is a single theory to everything?
Jaden: There’s definitely a theory to everything.
Will: When you find things that are tried and true for millennia, you can bet that it’s going to happen tomorrow.
Jaden: The sun coming up?
Will: The sun coming up, but even a little more. Like for Best Actor Oscars. Almost 90 percent of the time, it’s mental illness and historical figures, right? So, you can be pretty certain of that if you want to win—as a man; it’s very different for women. The patterns are all over the place, but for whatever reason, it’s really difficult to find the patterns in Best Actress.
Do you see patterns too, Jaden?
Jaden: I think that there is that special equation for everything, but I don’t think our mathematics have evolved enough for us to even—I think there’s, like, a whole new mathematics that we’d have to learn to get that equation.
Will: I agree with that.
Jaden: It’s beyond mathematical. It’s, like, multidimensional mathematical, if you can sort of understand what I’m saying.
Are both of you religious?
Will: No, we are students of world religion.
Seems like everyone’s excited about the idea that you might be religious.
Will: We respect all [religions].
Okay. Who would you say is the biggest star in your family?
Will and Jaden: [in unison] Willow! (Willow is Jaden’s 12-year-old sister.)
Jaden: She just knows who she is, so she just is.
Will: She has a magic power in the family. She absolutely demands the most attention, and there’s something really incendiary about a 12-year-old girl who says and does what she wants.