Will Smith’s id has always been extra. For 30 years, Hollywood’s resident Energizer Bunny has endeared onlookers with a shimmering career of summer jams, stirring blockbusters, and showy social media schemes melding self-help guruness and Travelocity stunts, all done with a seemingly joyful, overly enthusiastic Will Smithian pith that can cajole a smile out of even the most curmudgeonly faces.
In 2021, Smith’s entered a new era—one he’s called his “fuck-it 50s”—culminating in two new films, including King Richard, the story of Venus and Serena Williams’ father which just dropped in theaters and HBO Max, and a memoir titled Will detailing his upbringing, journey to global superstardom and, of course, sexual proclivities. In fact, we know a lot about the 53-year-old’s coital acumen. From his misguided desire to recruit a harem of twenty or so women to follow him around the world—a desire he learned, pretty quickly, would’ve been terrible not to mention expensive as hell—to adding color to the claims that he and superstar wife Jada Pinkett Smith share a non-monogamous love, and, as we learned earlier this week in a BuzzFeed excerpt from Will, his teenage years where Smith couldn’t bust a nut without upchucking.
It’s kind of... a lot. And the newfound openness—which kicked off with his overwhelmingly memeable appearance on Pinkett’s Red Table Talk Facebook Watch series about their between-the-sheets shenanigans combined with Smith’s willingness to go there on a nearly weekly basis—has left some feeling a little oversaturated in his man juice. This, of course, coincides with his need to market his many recent endeavors which, along with the book and films, includes a new original YouTube series, Will Smith: The Best Shape of My Life, where he attempts to lose a pound a week for 20 weeks, as well as the Disney+ nature series Welcome to Earth. Marketing his art in a social media world where oversharing our insecurities, exaggerated or not, has developed into a currency meant that Will, whose personal life has largely been pressed under the weight of stardom, was forcibly compelled to finally let us in. But now that we’re here, it’s fair to ask what the hell is going on with him and whether his excitement to share might end up costing him the acclaim he seeks. As much as this moment might be representative of his fuck-it fifties, there’s still gold to be had.
There was a period there where it seemed like Smith was in no-man’s land in terms of the scripts he would accept. The After Earths, Seven Poundses and Collateral Beautys of the world didn’t land him any love in Beverly Hills and his film Bright, as seemingly successful as Netflix claims it was, represented a nadir in the eyes of most discerning viewers. During that time, Will was on a different, more personal journey. He took dozens of trips, sipping on ayahuasca in Peru, consulted with sex therapists and relationship advisers, and sought the counsel of other middle-aged megastars like Denzel Washington and Dwayne Johnson. He’s had to lean into his inner child—which, one might imagine, is an easier process for a man who’s always felt like a big kid—and unravel his complicated and oftentimes abusive relationship with his father. And, of course, he’s said he’s had to reckon with his own egotistical nature which bore out in an imbalanced, controlling, and unwieldy connection with Jada. All of this was done privately in the 2010s, in the midst of falling box office numbers and receding relevance. We’re just now in a moment where, having done all of this unpacking, he’s ready to speak out on his growth.
So the oversharing definitely makes sense. Many who’ve come out the other side of intense therapy can relate to giddily articulating all the gains, revelations, and mantric solutions therein. As a child star of the ’90s turned global sensation, Smith came into focus at a time when the mystique of celebrity was not just largely intact but at the height of its power. The obscurity of fame and the famous was intrinsic in our consumption of these figures and their work. But as the gap between their public and private lives shortened to a simple button-click, Will’s world suddenly seemed antiquated. He mentions, in his interview with GQ from earlier this year, that friends like Johnson and Kevin Hart paved the way for him to mentally accept that he’d have to switch things up to stay relevant.
“They were doing unheard of stuff, posting pictures from set. You can’t post pictures from set a year before the movie comes out—Oh, shit, yes you can,” Smith recalled thinking. “I just saw how they invited people into the process in a way that I thought you weren’t allowed to do.” The days of celebrity allure via enigma were gone—but long live the moment-to-moment feel of prepackaged authenticity.
But how much is too much? Fans of Smith’s early work in both art and celebrity—the millennials who grew up on syndicated episodes of Fresh Prince and channels like TNT running Bad Boys and Independence Day on a constant loop—might be a little thrown off by the current primacy of Will’s private life. Every week, it seems, as Jezebel’s Ashley Reese wrote, a headline adding new wrinkles to the already multilayered mess of a marital melodrama between Will and Jada careens into view: “While not quite comparable to the ‘entanglement’ saga of 2020—you know, when husband and wife met at The Red Table to talk about their betrayals and dysfunction for all the world to see—this is steadily turning into another round of TMI overload.”
The question of whether it’s too much—whether the shock of the drama makes delving into a memoir or a new film actually worth it—feels a little moot at this point because the calculus is clear: Will understands that regardless of these unprecedented times we’re still obsessed with his fame. Even the claims of TMI are tongue-in-cheek. Quite honestly, the stories of his psychosomatic reactions to post-break-up sex are ridiculously entertaining, in part, because Smith is still an over-the-top storyteller. “There I was,” he writes of the barfing incidents, “retching and wretched. And the look in the eyes of the women even further deepened my agony.” At the risk of sounding insensitive, I’m sorry, but the howl that escaped my body reading that truly awful poeticism made me want to immediately cop this retelling. It’s sad, yes, that a high school girlfriend cheated on him and his reaction proved both emotional and disgustingly visceral, but the manner of our response hardly matters—it’s the fact that we’re responding at all that makes this money. Is there a risk in doing too much for the gram? Absolutely. Will it actually matter in the long run in terms of how successful he is? Probably not.
It’s totally fair to question whether Will is in the right state of mind right now. It’s clear that he’s been through a lot and put his family through so much as he’s navigated his own idiosyncratic narcissism. There’s a recognizable splash of that narcissism all over the new era as well. But this is what fame portends, and more specifically, a repressive fame that Smith’s persona was molded within. It’s the odd irony of older fans wanting to know juuust enough about this weird yet talented kid who just so happens to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
But what’s unendingly fascinating about the new Will is that there isn’t just one. Spreading his tendrils across various social media platforms, across mediums and all over his wife’s ruby-colored table, magnifies his extra to an unfathomable degree. If you don’t like Will the sex fiend, try Will the nutritionist. If Will the movie star isn’t your bag, try Will the literary figure or nature guide. As much as Smith would like us to believe we’re getting the essential Will Smith experience from each—and the jubilance with which he dallies between them is felt immensely—these are just splices of his world and his being. If you’re not into the new chapter of his life, he’s still betting on our inability to close the book. And it might just be a gamble he ends up winning.