Jada Enters The Matrix
by Paul Fischer
Standing merely five feet tall, Jada Pinkett Smith is known for her high-energy charm, receiving attention for the spunky role she played in her friend Keenan Ivory Wayans' Low Down Dirty Shame in 1994. She was born on September 18, 1971, in Baltimore, MD, where she grew up and went on to study dance at Baltimore School for the Arts. She then attended North Carolina School of Arts, but dropped out when Wayans found her an agent to launch her acting career.
Real notice came when she worked on Bill Cosby's series A Different World starting in 1991. Thereafter she appeared in several films including her more serious roles as the single mother in Menace II Society and the girlfriend in Jason's Lyric (1994). Eddie Murphy's 1996 rendition of The Nutty Professor brought her back to comedy, and the extensive hype around the film allowed her fame to swell. In 1997, she married fellow actor (and former rap star) Will Smith; the following year, she appeared in Woo and Return to Paradise, and gave birth to son Jadan [sic].
Pinkett Smith made a cameo in Spike Lee's Bamboozled in 2000, and then returned to a serious lead role in Doug McHenry's Kingdom Come (2001) with Whoopi Goldberg, which was shot while she was pregnant with daughter Willow. The petite actress is the newest cast member of the next 2 Matrix films, the first of which, Matrix Reloaded, opens on May 15. It was an energetic and fun Pinkett-Smith who talked Matrix, religion, and hubbie Will, to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: So could you beat up Will after training for this movie, do you think?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Please.
P.F.: You could do that anyway, right?
Jada Pinkett Smith: No. He's always reminding me that's not the case. That that will not happen. So...
P.F.: How long did he spend in Australia on this?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Umm. I think about nine months.
P.F.: Was your family with you for a lot of it?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh yeah. My kids were with me the whole time. And then Will came in and out. My bonus son came over with his mother to stay with me for some time also. So...and my goddaughter and some of my kids' friends. I just kept bringing everybody, you know, you just have to keep bringing people.
P.F.: That must take the pain away from working so far from home.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yeah. You know and so that my kids could have a life, you know. You see people.
P.F.: What did they do in Australia?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh. They have an aquarium, they have beautiful parks there - there's a lot of water in Sydney, Australia. They had gymnastic classes - I had gymnastic classes also - and they would take gymnastics with me while I was taking - I had a private and they had their class right next to me, which was great. They had swimming classes that they were doing - actually Jaden became a brilliant swimmer over in Australia, but you know, tons of stuff to do. We were constantly - did a lot of shopping.
P.F.: Specific about the training? Because I'd read you'd gained 15 pounds of muscles...
Jada Pinkett Smith: I did. I benched 170 - I did 9 plates on each side for leg presses. You don't get to see it in this movie, but you'll see it in the next one.
P.F.: So what went into that exactly?
Jada Pinkett Smith: That was just - because I had the same trainer that trained Will for Ali came over and trained me for The Matrix on top of the Kung Fu team training me for martial arts, so I had just a life full of training, which was just training.
P.F.: Was it hard to step into a project like this with an established cast already in there and join this kind of mythology?
Jada Pinkett Smith: You know, not really because I had an opportunity to meet the brothers for the first Matrix several times, so it was very clear about what they needed, what they wanted and what was expected of me, so it felt like I just jumped right in to the routine and Carrie-Ann and Laurence and Keanu were very welcoming. I mean they just, you know, they just kind of brought me in with open arms, so that made it very easy...very easy.
P.F.: At what point though did they sort of broach the subject of Enter The Matrix and hey, we're going to shoot all this additional material for a video?
Jada Pinkett Smith: You know, it came soon after I said that I would do the project, you know, pretty soon after that.
P.F.: And your first thoughts or reactions to that?
Jada Pinkett Smith: I don't really understand. Like, you know, okay, and then I get this 100 some odd page script and like...what is this? Like, I was confused. So, it me a while to actually have a conversation.
P.F.: Have you seen the game?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes, I have.
P.F.: What are your feelings?
Jada Pinkett Smith: I am very happy - very happy with that game.
P.F.: The thing I want to know is for the big action sequences, they have you in these like really tight outfits. I mean, you guys never sweat. How's that possible?
Jada Pinkett Smith: We're cool! We're in the Matrix! Ain't nobody sweating in the Matrix! You know, a lot of makeup.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Isn't it amazing? I'm telling you, it's like that - it takes, you know, well we do a lot of meditating, you understand, so even if the body is hot internally, you're cool.
P.F.: Have you seen the movie ?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes, I have seen the movie.
P.F.: How did you like it? Is it a digital Jada there?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh no. There's no digital me. No digital me.
P.F.: I mean, presuming there's a lot of resolution with you in the next - there's more of you in the next...
Jada Pinkett Smith: There's more of me. I don't know how much more, but there's more of me. Um, and, you know, obviously in the video game movie also.
P.F.: The scripts must - I mean, when you see the film, it's very densely philosophical and very profound. When you read the scripts, how does that translate on the page, did you actually have to go to the brothers and say what does this mean?
Jada Pinkett Smith: I didn't talk to them much about it because they don't really do a lot of explaining in that sense. It's like, I know they talked a great deal with Keanu, you know, but for characters - and Morpheus - you know, and I'm sure some with Trinity also, but you know, they can't take the time to talk to every single one of the characters. They kind of have to leave it, you know - they say well ok, this is the book we read, and this is the basis, you know, of your philosophy and then they kind of have to leave it up to you to figure it out. And then you come on the set and they help caress it, you know, a little more, but you know, you're basically left to your own devices.
P.F.: Do the action sequences - I mean there's such a sense of exactitude and you don't get a feeling of compromise that you kind of do in bits and pieces of a bunch of other movies. Is there that same attention to the performance - do they know exactly what they want?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh boy.
P.F.: And are they going to keep working ---
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes. My first day on the set, I mean, the 26th take, I looked at Laurence and I was like, what is going on, you know, and the thing is, I had to move out of the way. I had to just move out of the way. You know what I'm saying. Instead of me coming with these preconceived notions of what the scene was going to be, you know. I had to just let them do their thing and then once I did that, it was all gravy, you know? Like in three takes - okay - we got that, you know.
P.F.: Does having a family affect the choices that you make now as an actress?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Absolutely.
P.F.: You don't work as often as you did at the beginning of your career.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Only for special projects like this, yeah.
P.F.: So what are you looking for professionally.
Jada Pinkett Smith: I just always want to be able to have an opportunity to work. I always just try to make sure that I'm not forgotten and you know, so that when I do want to work, I can always, you know, go out and get that meeting or what have you. But you know, my priority is my family. You know, I really have to be honest about that and I do love doing what I do, but you can't have two superstars in the family. You know, we already have one.
P.F.: Who is that star?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Uh...Will. Will Smith. Do you have any idea who I'm talking about?
P.F.: He makes a couple of bucks.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh yeah. Yeah. So, you know, and just - I knew that going into a relationship with Will and that's how we keep our family balanced, you know, but I was able to do that.
P.F.: Who told you there can't be two superstars in a family?
Jada Pinkett Smith: You know what? Nobody did. Just me. You know, it was just something that - you know, this instinct, my kids have to have some type of you know, regular - they just do, I mean, you know and I'm looking for hours - and with the hours that it took me, I couldn't do what I did on this film every day. I mean I couldn't go from this film and then go right into another project. I have no idea when I'm going to do another movie. You know, because this process for me was a lot to do with small children, you know? Maybe as my kids get bigger, but my kids were on the set with me and they - when I went home, it wasn't about me relaxing. I've still got to be mommy. I've still got to put these kids in the tub, you know what I mean? Because they don't want my mother to do it. My mother, thank God, was there with me the whole time. You know, she was with me just like today. She's at home with my children because I can't be. You know what I'm saying? And she was with me the whole time during the Australia thing, but you know, when I got home even my mother was like okay, I was with these kids all day, here you go!
P.F.: What about your husband? He doesn't ...
Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh yeah, he helps out when he's there. Yeah, he helps out so when I come home the kids are bathed, but then he wants to be all over you.
P.F.: What are their ages now?
Jada Pinkett Smith: I have a ten-year-old bonus child, I have a four-year-old son and a 2 ½ year-old daughter.
P.F.: A lot of people say that it's when the kids are all of school age that you become a lot more reluctant to do location work.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes. And that's another issue, you know. They don't even have to be school age. My four-year-old is like, I'm not going anywhere. You know what I mean? So you know it's difficult. You see, one of us has to be free to be able to maneuver with the children. You know, I can't be on the set and he be on the set, and I can't see Will, they can't see their dad because I got to work and he got to work. Whereas, you got to free it up.
P.F.: Does your four-year-old understand what you guys do for a living?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes, he does. He does, and he loves it.
P.F.: He thinks it's cool.
Jada Pinkett Smith: He's very excited. He's very excited. He plays a video game. I let him play the video game because there's no blood, you know what I mean. So we went through the video game, saying that we had here, but he won't play it regularly. I just let him play it for that little piece when he's at home. He's like, "Oh man, it's so cool." He's very excited.
P.F.: And excited about his mom being in an action film?
Jada Pinkett Smith: They are very excited. My bonus on this is like, "I can't wait to get that video game." You know, he got an opportunity to play the game and he's really excited, so that's cool.
P.F.: Would you work with Will again?
Jada Pinkett Smith: That would probably be the next time you see me in a movie.
P.F.: Any idea what it will be?
Jada Pinkett Smith: An action comedy, hopefully.
P.F.: So you're developing something together.
Jada Pinkett Smith: We are trying to. Yeah. We're just trying to find that script that, you know, we haven't found it yet. But we're trying to find that next thing that he and I can do together. Yeah, that will be what we do.
P.F.: Do you think that will be hard though?
Jada Pinkett Smith: No. Well, we actually did discuss producing a TV show together called "All About Us", which is a working title right now. We just shot the pilot, and it's actually a really, really wonderful process. We love working together. We really do. And Ali was great when we did Me and Ali together. You know, a little something, just to see. You know, give it a little, test the waters. Okay, that was cool, and we'll see. And with the pilot it was really great, so.
P.F.: What is the pilot about?
Jada Pinkett Smith: The pilot is just about a couple trying to make a blended family work. A guy who is divorced and is about to remarry, and then they're just trying to make it work, with this young son that they have.
P.F.: Can you tell us a little bit about Keanu what your impressions are on Kenau, you know. He has this mysterious quality, especially with us, with the press. He has a very guarded face.
Jada Pinkett Smith: He is very guarded.
P.F.: And you know the real Keanu
Jada Pinkett Smith: He's very generous. He's very sensitive. He's very quiet. You know what I mean? But he's also a really intuitive person. You know what I mean? He has this quality about him that he knows when you want to be spoken to, or he knows when you want to be bothered. And he knows when you don't. He gives you your space and he would prefer that you give him his space at the same time, understand when he wants to be spoken to. You know, when he wants that kiss in the morning. You know, there were days I'd come on the set and I'd go, "I think today is the day Keanu might want a kiss." You know, and then I'd come on the set and that day would be a day when you'd wave, you know what I'm saying? It's like he's just the type of person that he's a complicated man, you know what I'm saying? And I relate to that aspect of his personality because it's also an aspect of my personality. So it's something that I really respect and admire about him. He works extremely hard. I don't think there's any other person that I've seen work as hard as that man. And that, to me, was extremely inspiring. You know, and his generosity is, I mean he bought twelve Harleys for his stunt guys.
Jada Pinkett Smith: He didn't have to do that. He brought in a freaking Harley truck. And he just kept, the Harleys just kept piling out of the truck. You know what I'm saying. He didn't make a big deal about it. Nobody knew what was happening, it wasn't like he made this grand statement about, "Hey, look what I did", you know. Or he had a press release. He did it because he wanted to. Because he was so grateful to have them there, and they worked very hard also. And he's the shit. I love Keanu. I really do. I really, really do. I think he's a really wonderful person.
P.F.: Can you look back at the stuff and realize the sort of same little girl who had, started out?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Um hmm.
P.F.: How you developed?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yeah. It's nice for me to see, you know what I mean. That I can look at this stuff and actually see a growth. Oh, thank you. You know. So to me, it's I like that. It's very, it's wonderful for me to watch.
P.F.: You were actually more ambitious then.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes, I was.
P.F.: I spoke to you when you first got to LA, and I was stunned how confident and ambitious. It wasn't obnoxious, but it was like ...
Jada Pinkett Smith: I'm ready. Ready to take on the world.
P.F.: Is it kids that?
Jada Pinkett Smith: That change that? Yeah. You know, being single and young and, you know, having that, you are, I was ready to take on the world. And I still am, just in a different way, you know what I'm saying. But my kids, they're the most precious thing I have, you know what I mean, and so it just, children just put things into perspective. This is great, this is wonderful, and I love it, you know. But at the end of the day, once my children came into the world, I'm like, wow, there's nothing more precious than this human being that I have in front of me. You know what I'm saying. And this has to be taken care of first. And I can do that, you know, while I'm doing this, but this comes first. And that, I was just talking to them over that, that energy is the same energy that I felt from Alea when I met her in Oakland, you know, just that vivacious, Oh, I'm just going, ready. You know what I mean? And then to have what happened happen was just devastating in that I related to her energy in that way so much. It reminded me so much of myself and I was so happy for her because she was unstoppable. You know what I mean. She had all that you needed to have to do exactly what she was about to do. And that force just gets snuffed within a second. It's just like, jeez, and you talk about getting your faith challenged and you know, at a moment when you are going to dive into these concepts and these films, that was definitely one of those moments was just like, what is really going on? You know what I mean. So.
P.F.: You are a very spiritual, very religious person.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Spiritual, not religious. But I am spiritual.
P.F.: Because this film does have a lot of spiritualism in it.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes I do adhere to this. I don't adhere to the philosophy of the one, though. I don't believe in the concept of the one. No, I do not. I believe in the concept, the African concept, that it takes a village. You know what I'm saying. I believe that it takes quite a few people in order to make life. You know what I mean. Work. I don't believe that it takes one person. That there can only be one. So that's one thing that I do not. Yes. Many. And that's just me personally. I just, that concept of the one just doesn't gel for me.
P.F.: So what does Will think about?
Jada Pinkett Smith: And I don't even really believe in the concept that the concept of the one in this movie is how they, how it's being perceived. I don't think that it's really, it is the concept of the one. Because without trinity [sic], would Neil [lolsic] be able to do the things. Would he believe them the way that he does without trinity? Would he have the will to do things that he does without her love? Without the guidance of Morpheus. Would he have been able to find the way? So the next question is, maybe there would have been something or someone else to come and do it. But no matter what it is, there's always another supporting factor for that thing that, you know, that person or that thing that we consider to be the one. How is it the one, the one can't sustain itself alone. Just can't. There is no such thing as the one in my opinion.
P.F.: You seem like you could probably play a fantastic villain. Do you ever think about that?
Jada Pinkett Smith: I would. I've been waiting for that. That's going to be the next one. That'll be the, no the next one will probably be something that I do with Will, and then I'm going to look for that villain role.
Jada Pinkett Smith: Oh, yeah. I would love it. A villain? Yeah, you know I'd kill it. I'd kill it. I'd nail it. I'd nail it. I'd love to do that.
Matrix Reloaded opens on May 15.
Matrix Revolutions opens November 5.