Jada Pinkett Smith is intense in a ballroom chair in New York's Waldorf Astoria. At a petite, barely there frame, the 40 year-old actress, singer, producer, wife, mother still manages to somehow fill a room with so much energy—I mean a magnetic energy, the kind of magnetism that draws you into her gaunt, still flawless face, taking in whatever she's saying. Okay, it was my first interview with the super star force, who I have been girl-crushing non-stop since she was the goddess braids, combat boot-wearing Lena on "A Different World". Almost instantly, you can imagine how it feels to be Willow or Jaden—Smith oozes an intrinsic maternal, preachy-but cool kind of conversation. There's a lesson in nearly all of her words. She's about her very own brand of feminism, like her business. It's no wonder she's been bold enough to take on projects like Madagascar, the billion-dollar animated franchise so funny, you wonder if it's really for small children. In the film's third installment, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Smith returns as Gloria the hippo— a character she nails despite the immense irony. The plus-size dancing and sassy hippo is a whole lot of woman—but where Smith lacks in hips, she makes up in vocals. Smith stars along side Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Frances McDormand, and Cedric The Entertainer, and the hilarious comedy hits theaters this Friday, June 8.
We chatted pretty much everything except from those creepy divorce rumors (Yes this is frightening to me because what comes of Black love if our most coveted couple calls it quits? Yes I'm that sappy). So we focused on the challenges of animation acting, her own personal growth, and her wildly buzzed "Red Table Talks" series she launched on Mother's Day—where we shockingly watched the usually confident and pretty brave-for-a-kid Willow have her very first public display of unscripted vulnerability reminding us that yes, she's actually a kid as she broke down in very real tears. The Hollywood beauty was also super open on her thoughts about reality TV. Let's just say you won't find Jada signing anyone's petition to shut down "Basketball Wives".
EBONY: So tell us about channeling your inner animal.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Well you know the inner hippo in me, you know, this is our third installment so it’s like putting on an old jacket, shirt, or a pair of old slippers that you are just very familiar with. So it’s not difficult at all.
EBONY: Is it easier being in a studio talking to a microphone, than it is being on set as an actress acting in a regular film?
JPS: You know it’s not actually. It’s difficult when it’s just you and a microphone because you are so used to interacting with other actors, you know? And yes, it can be challenging because you are there alone all of the time, and so you don’t know…you know the directors tell you, “Oh, you know, Chris did this.” Or, “David did this, and we would love for you to try and do that.” But you really don’t have a reality on what it is. You know.
EBONY: Have you seen the finishing product yet?
EBONY: What are you favorite parts from the film?
JPS: I love the bear, Sophie the bear and Sacha Baron. That is probably the most adorable aspect of the story line to me. I just I love it. I don’t get enough of it. That bear is hilarious.
EBONY: What did your family think of the film?
JPS: They haven’t seen it yet. Yeah. They won’t see it until the premiere. Yeah.
EBONY: So are there obligations to see each other films?
JPS: I mean we try, definitely. You know it’s like when you create that’s just being part of a creative group like we are, you know, you have to check out each other’s products.
EBONY: So you don’t have where you worry that the kids might want to see his film versus your film more or anything like that?
JPS: Oh no. No you don’t have any of that. Oh no. No you don’t have any of that. Yeah.
EBONY: You recently released "Red Table Talks" on Mother’s Day, and that was just so empowering.
JPS: Thank you.
EBONY: And a lot of what you do is empowering women. Can you speak about why that was so important for you, and when the next installment is going to happen?
JPS: Yeah. It’s funny because, you know, it was really something that I did really organically that I wanted to just offer as a gift to women and especially mothers and for Mother’s Day. Because I get asked a lot about how do I communicate with my daughter, and my relationship with my mother being that we’ve had very humble beginnings as far as our relationship and what we have overcome. And Red Table Talks is now in discussions of creating a television show, I have a couple of people coming after me for a television deal for "Red Table Talks". And also a couple of web deals, which are interesting.
And so I will continue it, and I want to focus on issues in regards to relationships that will eventually and extend into other areas. But not just relationships in regards to familiar or even like love relationships. But like we have the Human Trafficking Report is about to come out. I don’t know if you know, but African American women and Latino women hold the number one and number two spot as far as women who are trafficked in the United States of America. Right? So I want to do a red table talk with a fantastic beautiful woman name Rachel Lloyd, who is head of the GEMS organization here in New York in regards to this issue. And I have another special project coming out on June 19 with Selma Hayek that I’m doing in Spanish in regards to that particular issue as well.
And so, you know, I want to use "Red Table Talks" as a form in which you can come and be real. And it’s really that simple. And I think that any relationship that you have with anyone you have to be able to put it on the red table. Meaning it has to be raw. And so whether you are dealing with love, whether you are dealing with family, whether you are dealing with a social issue, whether you are dealing with creation it has to be raw. And I think that now in this particular culture people go so hard at artist. And to be able to create a place where just people, and artist, can come and feel safe to just be raw and not feel that they are being attacked, you know, stripped down. And so that’s the only way that we can keep our authenticity as people, as human beings, to be able to keep those genuine relationships to ourselves and to whomever we are interacting with. So to me that is the reason for the red table.
EBONY: It’s exciting.
JPS: Thank you.
EBONY: Think real and raw are two very appropriate adjectives for watching it. You know your openness was inspiring.
JPS: Oh thank you.
EBONY: And even watching Willow she displayed a lot of vulnerability and strength, and it was very interesting to see you interacting with her and kind of getting her to put words to her emotions. What was it like for you in that moment?
JPS: I have to be honest with you, I don’t know which segments you watched because there’s been so many segments dispersed but there was a segment where Willow comes to the table and she says, “I just want to tell you how much you mean in my life.” And she bursts into tears. The Red Table Talk was over, okay. And, you know, we’ve gone to the other room, and she goes, “Mommy, I still have something that I need to put on the table.” And I was like the lights, the guys, technicians had taken the lights. The cameras were down, but she was so adamant. Because you can see it’s dark outside, right, versus when we started it was light, right? And I was like, “I’m sorry guys but we’ve got to put these lights back.” And she got on the table, and I didn’t know what Willow was going to say. And when she started to cry I was like, you know, I was just like, “Okay. Just let this flow. This is her moment. This is what she wants to express.” But it was challenging because as a mother you want to go, “Cut. Cut it. Okay. Cut it.” You know what I mean? But she wanted to come to the table, and her expression and words…like the things that she said, I was in utter shock. I had no idea. I was just like…and just her perspective I was just like, “Willow, I never even thought about it like that.” You know, so the red table for us was just as I mean because it was…you guys saw, it was a bowl with questions. You know what I mean?
So I learned more about my daughter and my mother in that day, and I think that Willow learned a heck of a lot about us. And I mean I still have probably, we were at that red table for about two and a half hours. So I think we’ve shared with you guys maybe 45 minutes of that. But she has another segment that’s crazy. She has another segment that’s out of sight. You know I had to just figure out when to, but she was just amazing throughout the whole thing.
EBONY: How do you balance your career and your children? I mean obviously they are top notch, how do you do it?
EBONY: The career and motherhood?
JPS: Because it’s not separate. I never stop being a mother and I never stop being an artist. You understand? Which is probably why my kids are so creative, because it’s not separated. You see, when I’m with my kids I’m creating, and I’m still a mom. And when I’m creating I’m still a mom. You know, it’s not like…I don’t wear two different hats. My kids will be on the set with me. That’s one of the reasons that I had my mom. I had that segment where my mother was on that because I was breastfeeding so she had to sit on that set. Like literally, like on a chair while I’m sitting up there doing karate she’s sitting up in that chair with Willow in her lap and walking Willow around because she can’t go anywhere because I’m breastfeeding. And none of my kids took a bottle. They would not take a bottle. Do you hear me? So they couldn’t leave my side for a very long time. You know. And so I’m sitting up there doing Kung Fu, movie Kung Fu, but I still have to do the mommy thing. There’s no separation. You know, and if I’m at home with my kids and I’m feeding them, I remember talking to Latifah and she’s like, “Girl I remember coming to your house and seeing you dancing in front of them kids. Feeding them kids, rapping, and signing, and all that.” And I said, “That’s why, that’s how they got all that.” I was like, “Nah, that’s just what you call good genes. You know what I’m saying?” You get with the artist, you make artists. You know? So. Yeah.
EBONY: One of the things that I love about Gloria is that in all three movies she never apologized for her appearance and how she looks.
EBONY: How do you think little girls watching that movie, how can we use that to empower them as far as positive body images?
JPS: Yeah. See that’s why I love Gloria, you know. And the idea that, you know, she’s a lot of girl, and she loves it. And I try to give her that sass and that swag, you know? And I think it’s not even about necessarily talking about it but sometimes just showing it, that it’s about how you look at yourself and how you carry yourself. And I’m dealing with this issue very deeply right now in dealing with the idea of romanticism in this next video that I’m doing, _____ (11:25) that comes out June 19 in regards to human trafficking because how most women and girls get caught up in this is the dream. Right? You get sold the dream, that whole romantic idea that you are going to find the perfect person, you are going to find the perfect situation. Right?
And a lot of times it steals…we give away our power in thinking that we have to look to someone else to have acceptance for who we are. Right? And that our images of ourselves are based on how other people see us. And anytime that you do that you are going to be a very unhappy person because it varies too much. He might be happy with something that she might not be happy with. So now you are stuck in between the middle in trying to figure out, “Well who am I supposed to be?” Versus focusing on, “Who are you happy with? What are you happy with?” Because at the end of the day what she thinks and what he believes has nothing to do with your existence. And I tell you what, the moment that you understand you power, your beauty, your life changes. When we get out of expecting him to accept you, her to accept you, or anybody else to accept you, okay because it’s too varied. It’s too varied. But I’ll tell you what’s not varied, how you feel about yourself. And if you can carry that with you, you are going to be okay.
EBONY: When did you understand your power and your beauty?
JPS: Listen, that’s something that you continue to…because you learn it on so many levels. You know, you find one aspect…I look at even my daughter Willow, you know, and she’s way ahead of the game now than I was at her age. And I can only imagine who she’s going to be as a 40-year-old woman. You know, because it’s a journey. It’s a journey. So it’s something that you continue. You don’t get to a destination of it because the more you start to grow, and the more you start to understand, you never stop. So you never get to a place like, “Ah, here it is.” You know? You might get to a place like, “Okay, I’m finally glad to be here and be comfortable in my skin no matter what.” But the lessons don’t stop.
EBONY: One thing you are also known for is balancing business and the artistic side. Talk a little bit about that, you have your own production companies, and you take your own ideas and actual them. Talk about getting that place where you know what to decide to do for this business point of view, or that creative point of view.
JPS: I think that, even now I’ve learned how to separate art from commerce. Right? So there’s certain things that I do creatively for commerce and there’s certain things that I don’t do for commerce like my music. I don’t do my music for commerce at all. I just do that to be creative, so I separate that from business completely. That is strictly art creation. And so depending on what I’m trying to achieve really depends on how I will approach something from a business standpoint. So it’s like, “Okay if I want masses, like how do I get masses of people to gravitate to this particular project?” Right? So then you have to strategize creatively, and you have to strategize business wise also, like what partnerships you create or what have you. Like Fella for instance. We’ve got Jay Z came to us about that particular project. So here you have three very recognizable African-Americans that are behind this Broadway showfella. You know what I mean?
EBONY: Great show by the way.
JPS: Right. You know? And so when you look at it from a business point of view, for us that’s something that we did creatively and something that we did for business as well. And so we joined forces and I have to say one of the things that I love about Jay Z, and I love about the relationship that I have with him businesswise, I think Roc Nation and Overbrook Entertainment are probably maybe the only two African-American entertainment groups that I know of that merged together all the time, on all kinds of different projects, and we always have such wonderful success. You know what I mean? And I’m hoping that, that will set an example for African-Americans. We don’t always have to be in competition. You know what I’m saying? And there’s more power in numbers. And that goes for everybody, not just African-Americans. That goes across the board for everybody. Everybody just want to have…just be a law. Forget about the power of the groups, you know? But I’ve learned that over the years that to really be able to create alliances on a business side to encourage growth and prosperity on the whole for everybody.
EBONY: With the summertime coming up who are some of your favorite artists that you are listening to right now on your IPod?
JPS: Oh my gosh. Who am I listening to right now? Probably not many people that you guys would recognize. I mean because I like a lot of, you know I’m a metal head. I like a lot of metal music. So that’s really what I listen to a lot. Or I listen to a lot of kind of off the cuff, like I love artists like Santigold, or Gold Frapp. Yeah. Pelican. Yeah. And that’s kind of where I’m at right now. Like a lot of old Police. Yeah. A lot of throwbacks. What else am I listening to?
Question: Roxanne of course.
JPS: Yeah. Of course. Of course. Of course.
EBONY: One of the comments that Chris Rock made last year about for his presentation about a black guy can play a zebra and white guy can play an Arabian prince, and as well as the process of filming you shop up, someone feeds you your lines, and get a million dollars. Is the process of animated film, really just that easy?
JPS: It just depends like, on how you come and how you approach it. You know? It wasn’t that easy for me because I found it took me three installments to get the swing of this. Okay because…Chris is a standup comedian, okay? So you are used to being a one man show, right? For me I was so used to interacting with other people and then I didn’t have a set, I didn’t have clothes, and you just have people telling you all of this stuff. And I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m doing right now, and I don’t know what this is. So let me just…I’m just going to give what I got.” You know what I mean? And so I found it to be a very trying process, you know, because also you have to be able to reenact. Like if you see Gloria running, I actually have to run, I’m screaming, voice hoarse and leaving. They’re like, “Okay we are going to save this section because after this section you aren’t going to be able to talk. I was like, “We will do this at the end of the session.” It was like, “Okay. Cool.”
So you know it’s a lot of work. But for somebody like Chris he’s probably like, “I do this every night.” You know.
EBONY: A lot of people have been vocal about the negative images that are on reality TV particularly like with "Basketball Wives" and the "Housewives of Atlanta". What are your thoughts on that? People like Star Jones and even Nicki Minaj have come forward saying how negative they are. And as a mother, and as someone who is in the industry in particular, what do you think about these shows?
JPS: Listen, I think there’s room for everything. You know? I think there’s room for everything, and I think what we have to focus on is balancing. I don’t think we have to focus on, you know, listen everybody is trying to create. Everybody is trying to make a living. Don’t be mad, don’t come down on them. Okay. Talk to the people that are actually putting these shows on and ask them to balance it out. It’s not that those shows shouldn’t exist. It’s not about coming down on people. You know what I mean? It’s just about creating a balance. But also as a community, we have to be more responsible about what we are willing to watch. Now how about that? Okay? And that’s really…that’s what people really don’t want to talk about.
I’m going to tell you something. It’s not that people try to put on programming for us that’s varied. It’s not that people don’t try to create movies for us that are varied. I’ll tell you what, people we need to be more responsible about what we are going to see. Because people only create what we are going to watch. So don’t you come down on them. Folks need to be looking, you know what I mean? Take responsibility about what you have you have on your TV, and about what you are out there supporting. So people need to check their own individual selves on that one.