Jada Pinkett Smith Channels Her Inner Hippo and More
by Brad Balfour
As the rail-thin Jada Pinkett Smith bounds into the Waldorf Astoria suite for a friendly chat about life and family, she exudes energy and an intensity that makes this petite 40 year-old actress a lot bigger in the chair than she seems.
Opening at Cannes Film Festival 2012, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – the third installment of the billion-dollar franchise – stars Central Park Zoo refugees Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) who are determined to return to New York City.
Leaving Africa behind, they detour to Monte Carlo on a hunt for the penguins and chimps that had left them stranded.
After their pals break the bank of a local casino, the animals are soon discovered by dogged French animal control officer Capitaine Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) who doesn’t appreciate these foreigners running wild in her city and is thrilled by the idea of hunting her first lion!
Once they’ve surfaced, quite literally, in Europe – the Zoosters hide out in a down-and-out traveling circus where they plan to reinvent it without humans, discover a few new talents and make it home to the USA alive.
For the first time in 3D, the Madagascar crew is doing death-defying tricks with a wild bunch of new friends.
Both as hippo Gloria and in her many other roles, Pinkett Smith has proven to be a versatile star both on and off screen. She has amassed an impressive array of film and TV credits, including Hawthorne(the TNT medical drama that ran from 2009-2011; she also served as an executive producer), Reign Over Me (opposite Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle), and in Michael Mann’s Collateral (where she had pivotal role opposite Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx). But she’s probably best known as the take-charge Niobe in the iconic sequels, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions.
Through her production company, 100% Womon, Pinkett Smith wrote, directed and co-starred in The Human Contract opposite Jason Clarke and Paz Vega. She also put pen to paper resulting in the New York Times bestseller Girls Hold Up This World, published in 2005.
In 2010, Pinkett Smith assumed executive producer duties for the feature film The Karate Kid, starring her son Jaden Smith and was also an executive producer on The Secret Life of Bees. Together with husband Will Smith, she created and executive produced the CW Network’s All of Us.
Beyond the medium of TV and film, the Smiths have collaborated with record industry mogul Jay-Zto produce the Broadway musical hit Fela! which earned three Tony Awards.
Focusing on her musical interests, Pinkett Smith became the lead singer of the rock band Wicked Wisdom, which opened for Britney Spears during her Onyx Hotel Tour. Her most recent musical project, a sensual ballad entitled “Burn,” was released on iTunes on Valentine’s Day 2012 and was dedicated to her husband.
Born and raised in Maryland, Pinkett Smith studied dance and acting at the Baltimore School of the Arts and North Carolina School of the Arts. Her big break came when she landed a role on the long-running NBC series A Different World.
Though Madagascar 3 is her latest high-profile project, this actress/producer/writer is constantly developing or producing for various media including now a web series, Red Table Talk.
How was it channeling your inner animal?
Well, for the inner hippo in me – this is our third installment so it’s like putting on an old jacket, shirt, or a pair of old slippers that you are very familiar with. It’s not difficult at all.
Do the animators give you pointers as to how your dance moves should be or do you have a certain strategy around your moves?
You know it’s funny because while we are actually recording they have a video recorder, and they are actually recording us while we are doing the voices.
Whatever movements we are doing at that time, they actually use them in the film – whether it’s facial expressions, actual physical movements or what have you. So that’s always interesting to see their interpretation of what you’ve done.
At least they didn’t make you wear the suit with all the little sensors.
Oh yeah. No, didn’t have to wear that this time. That was for Matrix, but not for this.
Is it easier being in a studio talking to a microphone, than it is being on set as an actress performing in a regular film?
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. And yes, it can be challenging because you are there alone all of the time, and so you don’t 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.
Chris Rock made a few comments last year about his work in animation that a black guy can play a zebra and white guy can play an Arabian prince, as well as, someone feeds you your lines and you get a million dollars. Is the process of animated film really just that easy?
It just depends on how you come and approach it. It wasn’t that easy for me because I found it took me three installments to get the swing of this. And because Chris is a standup comedian, he’s used to being a one-man show, right? I was so used to interacting with other people and didn’t have a set or clothes, and you just have people telling you all of this stuff. I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m doing right now, and I don’t know what this is. I’m just going to give what I got.” I found it to be a very trying process because also you have to be able to reenact. Like if you see Gloria running, I actually have to run, I’m screaming, my voice is hoarse and I’m [heaving]. They’re like, “Okay we are going to save this section because after this 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.” It’s a lot of work. But for somebody like Chris he’s probably like, “I do this every night.”
Have you seen the finishing product yet?
What are your favorite parts from the film?
I love the bear, Sophie the bear and Sacha Baron [Cohen who voices King Julien]. 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.
What did your family think of the film?
They haven’t seen it yet. They won’t see it until the premiere.
So are there obligations to see each other’s films when they open so near to each other likeMen In Black 3?
We try, definitely. It’s like when you create that’s just being part of a creative group. You have to check out each other’s products.
So you don’t worry that the kids might want to see Dad’s film versus your film anything like that?
Oh no. No you don’t have any of that.
You recently released an episode of your web series The Red Table Talk on Mother’s Day and that was so empowering.
A lot of what you do is empowering women. Why is that so important to you and when will the next installment happen?
It’s funny because it was really something that I did organically. I just wanted to offer it as a gift to women, especially mothers, for Mother’s Day. I get asked a lot about how do I communicate with my daughter [Willow], and about my relationship with my mother [Adrienne Banfield-Jones] being that we’ve had very humble beginnings as far as our relationship and what we have overcome. Because of Red Table Talks I am now in discussion about creating a television show. I have a couple of people coming after me for a television deal for it. Also a couple of web deals which are interesting. So I will continue it, and want to focus on issues in regards to relationships that will eventually and extend into other areas. Not just relationships in regards to familiar or even love relationships but also like we have the Human Trafficking Report is about to come out. I don’t know if you know this, 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. So I want to do a Red Table Talk with a fantastic beautiful woman, Rachel Lloyd, who heads the GEMS organization here in New York which works in regards to this issue.
I have another special project coming out on June 19 with Salma Hayek that I’m doing in Spanish with regards to that particular issue as well. I want to use Red Table Talk as a forum in which you can come and be real. It’s really that simple. 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. So whether you are dealing with love, with family, a social issue, or whether you are dealing with creation, it has to be raw. I think that now in this particular culture people go so hard at artists. So to be able to create a place where people and artists can come and feel safe to just be raw and not feel that they are being attacked or stripped down. 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.
It’s exciting. Real and raw are two very appropriate adjectives for watching it. Your openness was inspiring.
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?
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 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. We’ve gone to the other room, and she goes, “Mommy, I still have something that I need to put on the table.” I was like, oh the lights, the guys, the 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? I was like, “I’m sorry guys but we’ve got to put these lights back.” She got on the table, and I didn’t know what Willow was going to say. When she started to cry 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 [with] her expression and words… the things that she said. I was in utter shock. I had no idea. Just her perspective I was just like, “Willow, I never even thought about it like that.” So the red table for us was just as I meant to be because it was… You guys saw, it was a bowl with questions. You know what I mean? 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. We were at that red table for about two and a half hours. I think we’ve shared with you 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.
How do you balance your career and raising your children? Obviously they are top notch, how do you do it?
The career and motherhood?
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. When I’m creating I’m still a mom. 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 on. I had that segment where my mother was on because I was breastfeeding so she had to sit on that set. Literally, 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. None of my kids took a bottle. They would not take a bottle. Do you hear me? They couldn’t leave my side for a very long time. I’m sitting up there doing Kung Fu, the movie Kung Fu, but I still have to do the mommy thing. There’s no separation and if I’m at home with my kids and feeding them… I remember talking to [Queen] 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. 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.
One of the things about Gloria is that in all three movies she never apologizes for her appearance and how she looks. How can we use that to empower little girls as far as positive body images?
That’s why I love Gloria – the idea that she’s a lot of girl and she loves it. I try to give her that sass and swagger. 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. 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, that comes out on June 19 in regards to human trafficking because how most women and girls get caught up in this is the dream. 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. A lot of times we give away our power in thinking that we have to look to someone else to have acceptance for who we are. That our images of ourselves are based on how other people see us. 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?” At the end of the day what she thinks and what he believes has nothing to do with your existence. I tell you what, the moment that you understand your power and 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.
When did you understand your power and beauty?
Listen, that’s something that you continue to… because you learn it on so many levels. You find one aspect… I look at even my daughter Willow, and she’s way ahead of the game now than I was at her age. I can only imagine who she’s going to be as a 40-year-old woman because it’s a journey. It’s a journey. 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 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.
You are known for balancing business and your artistic side. You have your own production companies, and take your own ideas and actualize them. How do you know what to do from this business point of view or that creative one?
Even now I’ve learned how to separate art from commerce. There are certain things I do creatively for commerce and there are certain things that I don’t do for commerce – like my music. I don’t do it for commerce at all. I just do that to be creative, so I separate that from business completely. That is strictly art creation. Depending on what I’m trying to achieve really depends on how I will approach something from a business standpoint. It’s like, “Okay if I want the masses, how do I get masses of people to gravitate to this particular project?” Then you have to strategize creatively, and you have to strategize business-wise also, like what partnerships you create or what have you. Like Fela! for instance. Jay Z came to us about that particular project. So here you have three very recognizable African-Americans that are behind this Broadway show Fela!
Great show by the way.
Right. So when you look at it from a business point of view, for us that is something that we did creatively and something that we did for business as well. We joined forces and I have to say one of the things that I love about Jay Z, and love about the relationship that I have with him business-wise. I think Roc Nation and Overbrook Entertainment [Will’s company] are maybe the only two African-American entertainment groups that I know of that merge together all the time, on all kinds of different projects – and we have such wonderful success. I’m hoping that, that will set an example for African-Americans. We don’t always have to be in competition. There’s more power in numbers. That goes for everybody, not just African-Americans. That goes across the board for everybody. Everybody just wants to alone. Forget about the power of the groups. 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.
With the summertime coming up who are some of your favorite artists that you are listening to on your iPod?
Oh my gosh. Who am I listening to right now? Probably not many people you would recognize because I like a lot of…. You know I’m a metal head. I like a lot of metal music. That’s really what I listen to a lot. Or off the cuff, I love artists like Santigold or GoldFrapp. Yeah. And Pelican. That’s kind of where I’m at right now. And I like a lot of old Police. A lot of throwbacks. What else am I listening to?
A Police song like “Roxanne” would seem appropriate of course with the sex trafficking issue in mind.
Yeah. Of course. Of course. Of course.
A lot of people have been vocal about negative images on reality TV particularly with Basketball Wives and the Housewives. People like Star Jones and even Nicki Minaj have come forward saying how negative they are. As a mother, and as someone who is in the industry, what do you think about these shows?
Listen, I think there’s room for everything. I think what we have to focus on is balancing. Listen everybody is trying to create. Everybody is trying to make a living. Don’t be mad. Don’t come down on them. 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. 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? 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 is 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. Take responsibility about what you have you have on your TV and about what you are out there supporting. People need to check their own individual selves on that one.
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 12, 2012.