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Jada Pinkett Smith: ‘Will and I weren’t doing anyone any service in trying to nourish the illusion of a relationship’

In her memoir, ‘Worthy,’ the actress and singer talks about her journey toward self-love and healing, her struggle with mental health issues and her relationship with Will Smith, her husband but with whom she has not lived for years

Jada Pinkett Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith, upon arrival at 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' on October 16, 2023, in New York.James Devaney (GC Images)

Jada Pinkett Smith is a star — something that becomes even more evident when, upon connecting to the interview call at the agreed time, she is already there. No waiting, no assistants, no one to touch her up or flutter around her in the room where she joins the Zoom conversation. From time to time she looks down and, in the middle of the conversation, she gets up to chase two of her dogs while she generously apologizes: “So sorry, my cat just attacked my dog.” Pinkett has seven dogs, four cats and a snake. She loves snakes; in fact, she had as many as 10 at one time. Anyone who reads her memoir, Worthy, will know this, as they will know so many other things about her: that she grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, with an addict mother — who gave birth to Jada before she finished high school — and an absentee father, raised by her grandparents; that she became a drug kingpin, and a brilliant skateboarder, in her teens; that she never cared for the glitz of Hollywood, she just wanted to work and make movies; that she was the lead singer of a successful rock band in the early 2000s; that she speaks a little Spanish and practices it daily with Duolingo, and that she loves Spain, a country she has visited many times; that she has tried every religion there is. Also, that her marriage to Will Smith is not exactly conventional: they have been separated for about seven years, live in different houses, but do not plan to get a divorce and are “a team,” “a family,” as she constantly repeats during the interview.

Worthy was originally published in mid-October, and readers and press quickly rushed to it to try to understand the life of the Smiths: Jada, Will and their children, Jaden, 25, and Willow, 23. Now, the book has been translated and published in Spanish (Válida, el amor que siempre merecí, Libros Cúpula), and Pinkett Smith talks exclusively with EL PAÍS about the many challenges she has faced in her life. As she herself acknowledges, in her book she has tried to be “as honest as possible” about her story, which she says is not only hers because it has “a lot of universal themes” and “universal situations, even though it might not show up exactly the same way for everybody.”

Her story is that of a young woman who came from a difficult background, who persisted and eventually succeeded. However, upon reaching the top, she realized that success was not what she thought it was, and instead faced emptiness, loneliness, confusion… “No one is exempt from the adversities of life. And it all shows up in different ways. But I think for some reason, a lot of people think that if you’ve had a certain amount of success, or you have a certain lifestyle, that you are exempt from the human experience in some way. And that is not true,” she says with a half-smile. Worldwide fame and a family net worth of around $400 million have not spared her from being her own worst enemy for decades, and from not feeling, until 10 years ago, loved, especially by herself.

In writing her memoir, Pinkett Smith wanted to be faithful to her story, something that comes across when reading the book’s 400 pages: from her time as a drug dealer, which brought her face to face with a gun on several occasions, to her alopecia, including Chris Rock’s bad jokes that provoked the infamous slap at the 2022 Oscars. She also delves into the closeness she feels with death: from her suicidal thoughts to the death, in the nineties and in her youth, of several close friends, such rapper Tupac Shakur, practically a brother to her, with whom she grew up in Baltimore. Having to remember and put it all on paper, has it been a catharsis? “Absolutely,” she acknowledges, adding that it’s been very tough. “When you’re trying to find the words, to express what you’ve been through in order to bring an outside party in. I really had to go into the crevices in order to really express what that experience was. So it was as if I was reliving it again.”

At the beginning of her career, she did not fit in Los Angeles. She found it “culturally” different to her native Baltimore, and she felt that it was difficult to find and build a community in the very large city. On top of that, she struggled to find acting jobs. She was often rejected for her height (4′ 11″), her accent or her raw manner, sometimes considered crude, not fitting with supposedly delicate characters. “You can take the girl out of Baltimore, but Baltimore never quite comes out of the girl,” she laughs now.

When she turned 21, shortly before meeting Will Smith, she went through a severe depression for which she needed professional help and antidepressants; at 40 she suffered such a breakdown that she knew she had to reinvent herself. “We can be grateful for rock bottoms when we can survive them. Because they can be so intense that it requires a deep transformation… And in my 40th year, I just required a deep healing, unlike anything I had had before. And I’m really grateful.”

Her children and husband encouraged her to get it all out in the book; the actor already did the same in his autobiography, Will, published two years ago. “He thought that the experience that he had writing his book, I would benefit greatly from [it]. [He] was right,” she says. He is present throughout the book, understandably so, as they have shared 30 years of their lives and have forged their careers together. As has been known for years, they maintain a kind of open relationship that, when the book was published, was revealed to be more like a marriage with separate paths. Very far apart. In Worthy, the Matrix and Madagascar actress explains that they love each other, but that they have not been a couple for years. They are not divorced, but they do not live together. In a society as traditional as the American one often is, their agreement is difficult to understand, and she knows it.

The Smith family, from left: Trey Smith (son of Will Smith and Sheree Zampino), Willow, Jaden, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, at the premiere of 'Emancipation,' on November 30, 2022, in Los Angeles.
The Smith family, from left: Trey Smith (son of Will Smith and Sheree Zampino), Willow, Jaden, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, at the premiere of 'Emancipation,' on November 30, 2022, in Los Angeles.IMAGO/Faye Sadou (IMAGO/MediaPunch / Cordon Press)

“I think marriage and relationships are an individualized curriculum. And I think that everyone is trying to be married in a certain way, or everyone is trying to be in relationships in a certain way, versus looking at your relationship individually. And figuring out what that relationship needs versus worrying about it fitting inside of an idea,” she affirms, speaking slowly and calmly, in words of reflection. “It’s interesting that we’re all unique individuals who then partner with another unique individual and then expect the relationship not to have its own unique components. [We think] it’s supposed to fit inside these, like, standards. […] And I think in this new day, I’m hoping that people will find the courage to understand that being in a relationship is finding the ideal format that helps individuals find love. And that looks different for everybody.”

She, too, has needed her own path. Although she grew up in a secular environment, in the so-called Ethical Society, she has studied and researched religions, their histories and sacred texts to find the “Great Supreme,” as she calls him, the one who has helped her to find herself. “My grandmother was an atheist, didn’t believe in God, but she was like, ‘I’m going to educate you, so you can decide if you want to choose a God for yourself.’” She has read the Koran and accompanied monks in Vietnam. She has also tried Scientology, but, she clarifies, not so much in a spiritual way. “It was [because of] the study tech, which I really liked. And so that’s a little that’s more of the secular aspect of Scientology. So, I got what I needed from it and then I just moved on.”

It was with this method that their two children studied, at home, guided by many religions and by their artistic passions, which their parents tried to liberate and respect. Just as it was not easy to raise them, it has not been easy for the Smiths to find the dynamics of their relationship. “I had to do a lot of my own personal healing to understand what I needed for myself and how to provide for myself. And then for people who love me like Will, to know how to assist in that. But no one can be my happiness. No one can hand me the pretty little red box with the bow and go, ‘Oh, there’s your happiness.’ I love [those who] can figure out how to assist us in our own fundamental construct of happiness within ourselves,” she says. “So once I found that, I was really able to see the beauty of the relationship, the beauty of our family. And recognizing that our family is our priority and us loving each other — that is priority for Will and I as well. Helping each other understand our individual selves as well as understanding one another.”

They are not a typical couple; theirs is not a fairy tale story. Romance is not the basis of their relationship. “I discovered, especially in long term relationships, that romance can be an aspect of your love. But romantic love itself is not sustainable, in the sense that you have to bring in other components. […] You can experience romance in your relationship, but expecting your relationship to be this romanticized version of love and that be the thing that you’re chasing... Love is so much deeper than that,” she says. She believes love is something that new generations, like her daughter Willow’s, see in a different and more complex way. Also, her parents’ upbringing taught her a different model. Jada Pinkett has been living in her own home, close to what she calls “the family home,” for a couple of years now. “We’re family. And we’ve decided [together with Will] is that we want to walk together, in our truth. And that means that I could be living by myself for five years and then move back into the family house,” she explains. “That’s why we have to as individuals in our own partnerships figure out what is needed there, because what is working for me may not work for someone else.”

It is not so much that their story is an exception; what’s rare is the fact that two actors, two starts, are willing to talk about this in such an open manner, regardless of what the public says. “I felt like we weren’t doing anyone any service in trying to nourish the illusion of a relationship,” she explains. The goal of a relationship is not to have issues, she adds, “it’s about how you get through those challenges.” “Instead of all of us trying to pretend like that’s what it should be,” a relationship in which there are zero problems, “we need to just start helping each other and sharing our testimonies of how we get through the challenges,” she adds, before concluding: “I mean, listen, for anybody who has had the princess story. Oh, my gosh, how lucky are you?”

For Jada Pinkett Smith, knowledge and acceptance saved her. In part, thanks to an encounter with a healer who a decade ago introduced her to the world of ayahuasca, an intense plant-based psychedelic drug that is consumed as a beverage during a multi-day, guarded ceremony. Her experience gave her nightmares, but also set her free, so much so that she kept going to see this woman and on one occasion brought some of her family and friends (although she doesn’t specify who). “It’s not something I would exactly recommend,” she acknowledges. “It’s one of those things that, if you talk about, people ask and ask and tell you they want to try it. Well, until they tell me three times, nothing. You have to ask me three times,” she jokes.

Her transformation process has also affected her loved ones, who see her more cheerful and healthy. Even her husband, who is no longer that man who, as she shares in her book, didn’t care about her feelings. “That was in the earlier part of the relationship. As he’s gotten older, he’s starting to pay more attention,” she assures. “You know, me being with him, I’ve had to transform too, and that’s that’s what relationships are really about. They help us learn about ourselves, and then we can just support each other in the healing process. And it’s a continuing process. I mean, it’s something I work on every day to maintain it,” she admits, adding that every day she gives thanks for having made it this far. “Once you do your healing, you realize who you are. And having yourself is everything. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the truth.”

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