What You Never Knew About Will Smith

Will Smith's path to movie stardom has not been typical. As Biography noted, Smith burst on the scene as a PG-rated rapper: one-half of the duo known as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. That initial burst of instant fame led him to television, and he starred in the beloved sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" for six hit seasons before branching out onto the big screen. 


Since then, the rapper-turned-actor has become one of Hollywood's most bankable stars: According to Box Office Mojo, his films have raked in a combined $9.3 billion at the box office. Now, however, Smith faces an uncertain future after letting his anger get the most of him during the 2022 Oscars when he strode onstage and smacked comedian Chris Rock across the face during the live television broadcast. The slap-heard-round-the-world occurred following an unfortunate joke that Rock made about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Making the entire thing even more bizarre, Smith just moments later went on to win his first Oscar.

There's undoubtedly much to learn about his fascinating public figure, so keep reading to find out what you never knew about Will Smith.


The reason he was disappointed when one of his movies opened at No. 1

When a movie opens at No. 1 at the box office, it's typically cause for celebration for that film's stars. Will Smith, however, has one outright stinker on his resume that he wishes, in hindsight, didn't do as well at the box office as it ultimately did: "Wild Wild West," his 1999 western based on the 1960s TV series. 


During a roundtable discussion with Newsweek — which also included fellow actors Sissy Spacek, Nicole Kidman, Tom Wilkinson, Naomi Watts, and Billy Bob Thornton — Smith described the film's success as his "biggest emotional defeat and the greatest emotional pain" he'd experienced in his acting career. "The movie wasn't good," Smith admitted. "And it hurt so bad to be the No. 1 movie — to open at $52 million — and to know the movie wasn't good." Ultimately, Smith said h felt he "cheated my audience" by releasing and promoting a terrible movie.

It's a lesson that Smith appears to have taken to heart. Speaking onstage at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival (via Entertainment Tonight), Smith admitted that he "found myself promoting something because I wanted to win versus promoting something because I believed in it."


He could have played Neo in 'The Matrix'

Will Smith's negative feelings about "Wild Wild West" were only compounded by the success of the film he passed up starring in it. "I did turn down Neo in 'The Matrix,'" Smith confessed in a "Storytime" video on his YouTube channel, explaining that an unconvincing pitch meeting with the Wachowski brothers — who directed "The Matrix" — guided his decision. "I'm not proud of it," Smith admitted but did concede that eventual star Keanu Reeves "was perfect" in the role.


As Smith explained, "The Matrix" would have been a very different movie had he played Neo "because I'm Black, then Morpheus wouldn't have been Black because they were looking at Val Kilmer" for the role that ultimately went to actor Laurence Fishburne. "So, I probably would've messed 'The Matrix' up. I would've ruined it." Smith believes that "I did y'all a favor" in passing.

During a red carpet interview (via Daily Motion), Smith admitted that if he had the chance to go back in time to one of his movies and offer himself some advice, he would return to the set of "Wild Wild West" and tell himself, "***hole, why didn't you do 'The Matrix?'"

Will Smith will 'not be out-worked'

Ask Will Smith to explain the secret of his success, and you may get a surprising answer. As Smith explained during an interview with "60 Minutes" (via YouTube), the actor never viewed his stardom as a result of his ability since he's never considered himself to be anything more than "slightly above average" in the talent department. His secret weapon, he revealed, is not his capability as a performer, but rather his "ridiculous, sickening work ethic." 


During another interview about his drive, Smith put it even more bluntly. "I will not be outworked — period." To make his point, Smith used the example of exercising on a treadmill alongside a competitor. "There's two things: You're getting off first, or I'm gonna die," he said. "It's really that simple." 

During a conversation with the "Rap Radar" podcast (via CNBC), Smith detailed the philosophy underlying the work ethic that has taken him to the upper echelons of show business. "For the most part, I don't live in a space of 'I can't," he said. "I live in a space of 'I feel confident that if I put in my 10,000 hours I can achieve anything."

Will Smith is a master at the Rubik's Cube

Will Smith's crazy work ethic is displayed in a crucial scene in his film "The Pursuit of Happyness," in which his character solves a Rubik's Cube within two minutes (via YouTube).

There are no cutaways or camera trickery involved; Smith solved the Rubik's Cube by himself. But, of course, Smith didn't just pick the thing up and figure it out for himself but was taught by expert Tyson Mao, who holds the world's record for solving the puzzle in the shortest amount of time while blindfolded. As Mao told the Chicago Tribune, the original idea was to use a hand double for the scene, but Smith was insistent that he could do it "genuinely on-camera."


According to Mao, Smith was such a good student that he gained the ability to solve a Rubik's Cube "from any configuration." "You can scramble it for as long as you want, and it won't make it any harder for him," he added.  

Smith proved he hadn't lost that skill when he was handed a Rubik's Cube during a talk show appearance — and solved it on camera. 

He signed on to 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' to pay the IRS

Will Smith was a burgeoning rapper when he was cast to star in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," and it's not hyperbole to say the sitcom's success launched his successful Hollywood career. However, that wasn't necessarily his plan. According to "Will Smith: A Biography," Smith was in a deep financial hole at the time, owing to the IRS nearly $3 million due to not paying taxes on his earnings as a rapper. "Before I was in trouble with Uncle Phil, I was in trouble with Uncle Sam," Smith joked in his "Storytime" video (via YouTube).


The IRS responded by confiscating all Smith's assets. "Being famous and broke is a *****y combination," quipped Smith, "because you're still famous and people recognize you, but they recognize you while you're sitting next to them on the bus."

When the opportunity arose for him to star in his own TV sitcom, Smith jumped at the chance to pay off his tax debt. But, as "Will Smith: A Biography" pointed out, the IRS took 70% of each of his "Fresh Prince" paychecks for the series' first three years.

He once considered killing his father

In 2021, Will Smith opened up about his life in his memoir, "Will." An excerpt published in People detailed his fraught childhood due to his physically abusive father, William Carroll Smith Sr. As Smith wrote, his relationship with his alcoholic father was complex and not easily categorized. "My father was violent, but he was also at every game, play, and recital," Smith explained, conceding that the same "intense perfectionism" that "put food on the table" also "terrorized his family."


A defining moment occurred when Smith was nine when he witnessed his father strike his mother in the head "so hard that she collapsed. I saw her spit blood." He wrote that memory has never left him, leading to childhood fantasies that he "would one day avenge my mother." 

Smith was confronted with an opportunity for vengeance years later when his father was ill with cancer. Wheeling his terminally ill father to the bathroom, Smith recalled pausing at the top of a staircase. "I could shove him down, and easily get away with it," he wrote, describing "the decades of pain, anger, and resentment" that bubbled to the surface before he brushed those feelings aside. Smith's father died in 2016.

He met his future wife during a failed audition

Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith were married on New Year's Eve 1997 (via Brides). Interestingly, the future spouses met in 1994 when she auditioned for a role on his sitcom, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." However, she didn't get the part revealing to "Extra" that producers told her she was too short to play the title character's girlfriend. It wasn't until years later that they began dating. However, there was a significant complication: He was already married to his first wife, Sheree Zampino (who later went on to join the cast of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills").


During an appearance on his wife's Facebook Watch series "Red Table Talk," Smith recalled being out to dinner with his then-wife and becoming overwhelmed with the "realization that I wasn't with the person I was supposed to be with." Smith and Zampino divorced in 1995 (via YouTube).

Meanwhile, the role in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" that Pinkett Smith had auditioned for ultimately went to actress Nia Long. "The joke that I have with Jada is that I got the job, but she got the husband," Long told People. "That's like our running joke."

His first Grammy win was both historic and controversial

In 1989, Will Smith and musical partner Jeffrey Allen Townes — or DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince — won a Grammy for their single "Parents Just Don't Understand." Their win was a historical one, given that it was in the Best Rap Performance category — marking the first time that particular category had been introduced. 


However, Smith and Townes weren't on hand to accept their award because they decided to boycott the ceremony. The Hollywood Reporter reported that the pair balked when they discovered that the new category wouldn't be part of the televised award ceremony. "We chose to boycott," Smith told Entertainment Tonight. "We feel that it's a slap in the face." 

As Smith explained, the Recording Academy — which puts on the annual award show — knew nothing about rap and wasn't giving the genre the respect he felt it deserved. "Our boycott was to open their eyes to rap music, so next year, some rapper will be able to perform at the Grammys, and the awards will be televised because the music is large enough and important enough to be on the show," he said.


He apologized to a former co-star after a feud that lasted decades

When actor Janet Hubert was replaced in the role of Aunt Viv on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," it led to a very public feud between Hubert and Will Smith that lasted decades. "I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be 'The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air Show,'" Smith sniped in a 1993 radio interview (via TV Line). "She said once, 'I've been in the business for 10 years, and this snotty-nosed punk comes along and gets a show.' To her, I'm the Antichrist." 


That same year, Hubert told the Los Angeles Times she was "hurt and disappointed" to part ways with the show. Her apparent bitterness was still on display when she told TMZ in 2011 that a reunion was unthinkable because she would never again "do anything with an ***hole like Will Smith."

Ultimately, she agreed to be part of the 2020 reunion special (via HBO Max), in which the former co-stars explained their behavior and then apologized for it. "We've said such hateful things about each other, probably. And I'm sorry," said Hubert, as reported by Vanity Fair, with Smith responding by telling her, "I'm sorry."

The reason he spent years thinking of himself as a coward

As Will Smith wrote in his 2021 memoir "Will" (via People), watching, at age nine, his father assault his mother was a moment he could never put behind him. He had never been able to overcome the guilt he felt "for my inaction that day" for his inability to stand up to his father. 


Ironically, his feelings of cowardice have also driven him to achieve ever-greater heights in his career. "What you have come to understand as 'Will Smith,' the alien-annihilating M.C., the bigger-than-life movie star, is largely a construction — a carefully crafted and honed character — designed to protect myself," he wrote, as excerpted by GQ

It was his father's death, he told the magazine, that finally allowed him to share the secret he'd been keeping for his entire life. "I never would've been able to talk about that while he was alive," Smith admitted.

He achieved his goal of becoming the world's biggest movie star

Having successfully transitioned from rapper to actor via "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," when the series ended its six-season run in 1996, Smith set a somewhat audacious goal for himself: to become the biggest movie star in the world. "I wanted to do what Eddie Murphy was doing. I wanted to make people feel how I felt the first time I saw 'Star Wars,'" Smith wrote in his memoir, "Will" (via GQ).


As The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, Smith achieved that goal by becoming the only actor in Hollywood history to boast 10 consecutive films that earned more than $150 million at the international box office.

Of course, that success didn't just happen accidentally. "When I moved into acting, that was the first time I started applying skill to my talents," he told the "Rap Radar" podcast (via CNBC). "You're born with talent, and there are certain things that you just do naturally ... But skill is acquired through discipline."

The history leading to Will Smith slapping Chris Rock

Will Smith made headlines and Oscar history when he strode onstage during the 2022 Academy Awards and slapped presenter Chris Rock in the face (via YouTube) after the comedian had jokingly compared Jada Pinkett Smith's bald look to Demi Moore's shaved head in "G.I. Jane." For her part, Pinkett Smith had previously opened up about her struggles with alopecia (via Page Six).


However, there may have been more history behind Smith's action — which led him to be banned from the Oscars for 10 years, Variety has reported — than viewers realized. When Rock hosted the 2016 Oscars, he made a joke at the expense of Pinkett Smith, who was publicly boycotting the event due to that year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy (via the BBC). "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties," Rock quipped at the time (via YouTube). "I wasn't invited."

When asked about Rock's mockery, reported Entertainment Tonight, Pinkett Smith seemingly brushed it off. "It comes with the territory," she said.

He had an ayahuasca-fueled vision of his career imploding

Whatever the ultimate impact of that slap on Will Smith's career, he shared a somewhat eerie revelation during an interview taped before the Oscars. Appearing on David Letterman's Netflix interview series, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction," Smith revealed he'd been on a quest for spiritual enlightenment that included 14 experiences taking ayahuasca in Peru over two years. According to Smith, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, his "journeys" via the hallucinogenic substance represented "the individual most hellish psychological experience" he'd ever faced.


As Smith explained, one of those visions involved his career evaporating before his eyes. "I started seeing all of my money flying away, and my house is flying away, and my career is going away, and I'm trying to grab for my money, and my career and my whole life is getting destroyed," he recounted. 

Bad trip or a legitimate premonition? That's open to interpretation.