INTERVIEW Jaden Smith on the making of After Earth and what it means to be his father’s son
Jaden Smith undertook an intense training schedule ahead of his starring role in the sci-fi action film After Earth . Over the course of four months, the young actor learned how to execute complex parkour moves, as well as hone his rock-climbing skills and undertake what he terms were “hardcore swimming and running” sessions.
“The action in this movie was crazy,” begins Smith, 14. “I had to run everywhere and I had to train in all types of crazy things. By the time I was done, I had gained 20 pounds and I was four inches taller!”
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan ( The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Last Airbender ), After Earth sees the teenage star once more alongside his father, the effervescent Will Smith, one of the highest-profile movie stars in Hollywood.
The two appeared together in 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness while Smith Sr. also oversaw his son’s starring role in the 2010 hit The Karate Kid , where he worked as a producer.
In After Earth the pair bring to life a strained relationship that unfolds in a world set 1,000 years in the future — after cataclysmic events have forced humanity’s migration from the planet. Jaden plays Kitai, who in the movie is struggling with life in the shadow of his father Cypher Raige (Will Smith), a renowned warrior and one of humanity’s leading lights. The son living under the glare of his famous father is a truth that Jaden understands. The film sees Kitai and Cypher crash-land their spacecraft on a highly hostile Earth, forcing Kitai to embark on a perilous journey in a bid to signal for help. As his journey quickens, Kitai faces uncharted ground, animals that have evolved with the intention of killing humans and an unstoppable alien that escaped during the crash.
“My dad… anything he makes, I know he really thinks about it,” continues Smith. “He is preparing a movie right now that he has been preparing for three years. And it probably won’t come out for another three years. So he really thinks about what he does. I know if he is doing it, it’s going to be awesome, it’s going to be a good time and that was true with this movie, too.”
The teenager says that his working relationship with his father has evolved from movie to movie and that their partnership on the new film was more collaborative. Smith says he feels more comfortable on screen with each passing film. “I feel after The Pursuit of Happyness I could call myself an actor,” he says of his debut feature, “because the performance that I did in that movie was very honest.”
In 2008 he appeared opposite Jennifer Connolly in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still and in 2010 his father produced the remake of The Karate Kid , in which Jaden starred alongside Jackie Chan. The movie took almost $360 million at the worldwide box office.
As well as playing as a father-son drama and a high-paced action spectacle, After Earth also carries a stark warning about mankind’s rapacious use of the planet’s resources, and the Smiths are keen to do their bit to promote environmentalism.
“In the household we recycle,” explains Smith jnr. “I compost all the food and put it in the ground to help the soil. And we just drink from glass bottles. We don’t use any plastic. We have solar power at our house. We try to do as much as we can.”
On a wider level, too, Jaden Smith is passionate about the planet and says that he feels a responsibility to speak out and encourage his generation. “I feel the world needs a voice right now,” he says. “It’s in a very dark place. But if we had somebody that was willing to say, ‘Hey, we need to do something about this,’ I feel we can actually change the world.”