Jada Pinkett Smith reveals why she'll never leave Will Smith

EXCLUSIVE Jada Pinkett Smith reveals why she’ll never leave Will Smith – even though they have separate homes – and how ‘the Oscars slap saved my marriage’

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When a marriage hits a rocky patch, couples find different ways of bringing back the magic – date night or perhaps counselling. For Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband Will, it took a public scandal to reset the relationship.

‘I nearly didn’t even attend the Oscars that year, but I’m glad I did,’ says Pinkett Smith. ‘I call it the “holy slap” now because so many positive things came after it.’

 She is, of course, referring to the 2022 Oscars, at which her husband had been nominated in the Best Actor category (Will Smith won for his role in the Venus and Serena Williams tennis biopic King Richard). The couple were seated in the front row when comedian and host Chris Rock made a joke about Pinkett Smith’s shaven head (a result of alopecia). Although at first Smith seemed to laugh, his wife gave an unamused eye-roll. Smith ascended the stage and slapped Rock’s face in front of a global TV audience.

‘Keep my wife’s name out of your f****** mouth!’ Smith raged in the deathly silent auditorium. Pinkett Smith reeled. But this was the moment that remade their marriage. 

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‘That moment of the s*** hitting the fan is when you see where you really are,’ she says. ‘After all those years trying to figure out if I would leave Will’s side, it took that slap for me to see I will never leave him. Who knows where our relationship would be if that hadn’t happened?’

 The truth is, their near 30-year union was in crisis. Although in Smith’s Oscars outburst he referred to Pinkett Smith, 52, as his ‘wife’, it later transpired they had split up six years previously and, as far back as July 2020, the couple had revealed all in a podcast she co-hosted, Red Table Talk. In it, Pinkett Smith, with her clearly emotional husband next to her, described their separation and her subsequent ‘entanglement’ with a troubled young singer/songwriter, 19 years her junior, called August Alsina. She says she was trying to help him. 

‘This is how a friendship unfolded that, much later and very unexpectedly, turned romantic,’ she writes in her new memoir, Worthy. In the book, Pinkett Smith is so frustrated by the bad press she received, not to mention the sympathy for her ex, that she dreamed of being a werewolf, tearing her husband to shreds and eating him.

Two weeks after our interview, a man claiming to be Will Smith’s former personal assistant said he walked in on the star having sex with actor Duane Martin in a dressing room when they appeared together in The Prince of Bel-Air in the early 1990s. Smith has called the claims ‘unequivocally false’.

 ‘I’m not here to discuss Will’s journey,’ she says firmly. ‘The point is, at the time of my entanglement, Will and I were not together but he just wasn’t ready for our split to be revealed. The reason I addressed it was that the “entanglee” had spoken about it [Alsina released a song called “Entanglements”, which includes the lines, “You left your man just to f*** with me, just to pay him back”] and I wanted to confront that. It was my mess, and I took the bullet for it.’ 

As Pinkett Smith writes in her memoir, there have been a lot of bullets (real and figurative) flying around her life. The daughter of addict parents, by the time she reached her teens she herself was a gun-carrying drug dealer. The memoir describes her extraordinary journey to Hollywood, where she landed major roles in films including The Nutty Professor, The Matrix Reloaded and Collateral

Jada with Will and Trevor Noah at the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party, following Will’s Best Actor win – and the ‘holy slap’.

Jada in the 1970s with her mother Adrienne, then a nurse.

Pinkett Smith first encountered her future husband in 1994 while auditioning for a guest-star role in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. ‘What’s up?’ Smith asked her off-camera. She says she barely acknowledged him. Their next encounter was on an LA shopping trip. Her mother was with her and she recognised the star in a department store. ‘Why can’t you be with somebody nice like him?’ she asked. 

But Pinkett Smith thought Smith was too ‘cheerful’. ‘Yeah, I was like, “Why does this dude find everything so funny?’’’ she says today. ‘When you’re carrying a burden from your childhood, it’s sometimes hard to understand other people’s joy.’ 

We are meeting in a photo studio in central London. Pinkett Smith looks tiny in a bulky white Tom Ford puffer jacket and Russell tracksuit bottoms. She proudly shows me her New Balance trainers from a range designed by her son Jaden. ‘My children have been so supportive,’ she says (as well as Jaden, 25, there is Willow, 23, and the young man she calls her ‘bonus son’ Trey, 30, from Smith’s previous marriage to actress Sheree Zampino). ‘But I had to do a lot to become the mother I wanted to be.’

When they married in 1997, she and Will Smith appeared to have everything. He had courted Pinkett Smith by whisking her away on a private jet to Mexico, Jamaica and Aspen, then gifting her jewellery and cars. She was already a star and Smith was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood (he reportedly received $40 million for his role in King Richard) and, until recently, they lived together in a $42 million mansion in Calabasas, California.

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And yet Worthy opens 14 years into their marriage with Pinkett Smith aged 40 planning to take her own life by driving off a cliff. ‘My thinking was, “I’m sorry sir/ma’am but in our relationship you can no longer be human”,’ she writes.

 ‘That passage was tough for my friends to read,’ she says now. ‘They now know that they were by my side while I was thinking, “This suicide has to look like an accident so the children aren’t traumatised – and I don’t just want to be injured, it has to be final”. And when Will read that part, he was like, “Damn!’’’ 

Her three children must have been shocked to read how unhappy she was, I say. ‘They already knew. I know there are pros and cons to a parent being honest, but my parenting is very open. I’ve always said to my children, “I’m your mother but I’m also a human being”.’ 

Before reaching that nadir, Pinkett Smith had already tried an astonishing array of therapies and pick-me-ups to assuage her mental torment: solo backpacking, ‘goddess gatherings’, meditation – even golf. ‘Tiger Woods taught me,’ she says. ‘He’s a very good coach. A spiritual connection isn’t just about meditation and saying “Ommmmmm”, it can be about connecting with a ball.’

 But it was a friend recommending ayahuasca, a plant-derived psychoactive drink believed to have therapeutic properties, that really saved her, although her four-day ‘trip’ was initially terrifying. After accepting the ‘aya’ drink from a medicine woman, Pinkett Smith was first confronted with her own suicidal voices, then believed herself to be walking through a jungle filled with snakes. By the fourth day, though, she says she experienced something incredible.

 ‘And I never felt suicidal again,’ she tells me. ‘‘‘Plant therapy” breaks down the trivial concerns of the ego. It allowed me to experience incredible universal love and made me the mother I wanted to be.’ 

Earlier this year, she, Will Smith, their children and some friends underwent an ayahuasca experience together. ‘The children loved it,’ she says. ‘Trey is into it the most – he’s on a real spiritual quest.’

 In his memoir, Spare, Prince Harry described taking ‘psychedelics’ and in an interview said they were ‘fundamental’ to helping him deal with ‘the traumas of the past’. The Smith family home is an hour away from Harry and Meghan’s in Montecito. Are they the friends she does it with?

‘No, but I didn’t know they did that. Good for them!’ To be fair, there is no suggestion Meghan has tried them. But can a psychedelic experience really fix a relationship? Pinkett Smith’s choice of men is a theme of Worthy. She says she likes ‘artists’, ‘roughneck bad boys’, ‘intellectuals’ and what she calls ‘in bed guys’. What category does her husband fall into?

‘Oh, Will is all of those things,’ she swoons. ‘He’s got it all.’ The slap certainly seems to have revived things. Two weeks before we meet, the couple and their children appeared together at a publicity event in Baltimore for Worthy. Will Smith applauded the book and jokingly described their marriage as ‘brutiful’ (a mix of brutal and beautiful). Pinkett Smith is already planning a follow-up. No prizes for guessing who her co-author will be.

Willow, Trey, Jaden and Will in Baltimore, 2023.

‘Will and I plan [to write] a book together called Don’t Try This at Home,’ she chuckles. ‘He has been on a journey. I have been on a journey. We want to write something where he puts the male side, I put the woman’s side and then these universal issues are resolved.’

Despite an estimated family fortune of more than $350 million, Pinkett Smith now leads the life of what she calls an ‘urban nun’. She often forswears sex, alcohol, shopping and entertainment depicting violence. She spends time meditating or reading passages from the Bible, Koran or Bhagavad Gita. ‘The simple life is best,’ she says. ‘When you simplify your interior landscape, you need less.’

This is quite the change. In Worthy, before her spiritual journey begins, she sounds rather high maintenance. In fact, when I heard Pinkett Smith was in town, my first concerns were for the concierge at her hotel. In 1999, President Clinton invited the Smiths to stay at the White House for a lavish star-studded millennium celebration. He even offered them Abraham Lincoln’s old bedroom, and Gianni Versace agreed to provide new outfits. But Pinkett Smith didn’t want to go, complaining to her husband about being assigned Abraham Lincoln’s ‘dusty-ass bedroom’.

Is that true or was she really upset about something else? ‘No, it was just dusty,’ she shrugs. ‘I had this new baby [Jaden was one at the time] and it was too much. I think a lot of women will relate to that. A lot of men, like Will, have this attitude, “We have to go out there and seize life!” They need heightened experiences to turn into stories. I don’t blame him – Will loves telling a good story. But sometimes women just want to connect.’

The couple may be fixing their marriage, but Pinkett Smith recently moved out of the Calabasas mansion and bought a house nearby. Her eyes light up when I mention it.

‘The best thing is I don’t need to say to Will, “Are you OK with this couch?”. I got one that’s cream patent leather but with gold studs on it. That expresses the heavy-metal side to me.’

It makes sense. Twenty-one years ago, Pinkett Smith dabbled with being a rock star and in 2004 her band Wicked Wisdom even toured with Britney Spears. Curiously, both women have just published memoirs revealing their unhappiness with celebrity and their complicated relationships with men.

‘I think Britney’s story and my story speak to people because women want to define themselves on their own terms, not just in relation to men,’ she says. ‘ Why do you think

I bought myself a “woman cave”? Every woman needs a woman cave!’

How did the children react to her move?

‘They knew I needed it. And besides, they are adults now. They know where to find me. They all have their own keys – even Will.’

Worthy is full of references to Hollywood’s ‘gilded cage’ and we are talking the day after Friends star Matthew Perry was found dead at home. Are wealth and fame really so awful?

‘They’re not awful but our perceptions of what they can deliver are unrealistic,’ she says. ‘I mean, kale can be disastrous if it’s all you eat, but it’s also good stuff. We just need to amend what wealth and celebrity mean for the soul.’

Christmas is coming. In the old days that would have entailed Pinkett Smith having to organise huge showbiz parties. Not any more.

‘I’ve learnt to say no. Me, Will, the kids and some friends will head to a snowy location. It’ll be simple. Like a lot of women, I feel, “What do we have when we strip away the nonsense and it’s just us?” I think that’s universal.’

She recently told a journalist that another reason for fixing her marriage was that her husband is getting old and needs looking after. Will Smith is 55. Is he unwell?

‘No, I was trying to be funny. But we are both getting older. And besides, we’ve been together 30 years so, even if someone new came along, neither of us is going anywhere. We are a family that needs to look out for one another and always will be. Sometimes it takes a crisis for you to see that.’

Worthy by Jada Pinkett Smith is published by 4th Estate. £25. To order a copy for £21.25 until 24 December, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £25.

Styling: Sophie Dearden

Styling assistant: Jessica Carroll

Picture Director: Ester Malloy 

Make-up: Liz Pugh at Premier using Tatcha  

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