After Earth: Dynamic Duo Will and Jaden Smith
By: Lynn Barker
The entire planet seems to know Will Smith and his 14-year-old son Jaden Smith. Their faces are everywhere. Dad Will has been charming audiences for years on TV, as a rapper and major movie star. Son Jaden has earned his chops when younger co-starring with dad in The Pursuit of Happyness and played a sad son in the sci-fi epic The Day the Earth Stood Still. It was his re-make of the ‘80’s hit The Karate Kid that cemented the younger Smith as a stand-alone star.
This week, in the Sci Fi actioner After Earth, you can catch this dynamic dad/son duo playing offworlder father son team Kitai (Jaden) and Cypher (Will) Raige. While on a trip to get some father/son bonding going, a crash landing leaves teenager Kitai and his dad stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after humankind left our world to escape huge cataclysmic events that wrecked the planet.
Now earth has gone back to nature and the only inhabitants are wild animals determined to attack anything human. Complicating matters is that a powerful enemy alien on the ship escaped in the crash. Dad and son have work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home.
Watching Will and Jaden together at an interview, you can see how proud Will is of his son and how much respect the two actors have for each other. Very cool.
Q: What did you like best about this movie?
- Jaden: It was just the idea of being in outer space, having two suns on our planet and all the ecological things in it. There were a lot of cool things on Earth with all the hot spots and stuff. It was all with nature and animals. Everything with the eco system was the coolest part for me.
Q: So what will audiences like about the film?
- Will: It’s a really unique piece. I think (the director) did a really cool job of blending the suspense and horror elements but this is also a huge, epic spectacle; all the cinematic summer candy you need and a father/son story so I think it’s a fantastically broad piece of work and in this summer of sequels, I think that this will stand out as special.
Q: There is something called “ghosting” in the movie. What is ghosting? It’s a way for humans to be invisible to their alien enemies?
- Jaden: Ghosting is when anybody, soldiers or anybody really..(to Will) you ghosted just now. It’s when you have no fear in what you’re doing and can really analyze the situation. Everything moves slower. When you’re scared, time moves fast. When you’re not scared, time moves normal speed and you can actually see what you need to do.
Q: How did you feel shooting the movie?
- Will: For me, it was an opportunity to really spend time with Jaden.
Other quotes from the dynamic dad/son duo:
Jaden Smith says that his character is one that any young teen, or anybody who’s been a young teen, can relate to. “Kitai is supposed to be the best of the best and he is, physically, in what he can do but he’s reckless,” he says. “He feels he has something to prove, because of who his father is and because of things that have happened in the past. It’s hard for him to control his emotions. So when they crash on Earth, if he is going to survive, he has to put that aside and stop caring about whether or not he impresses his dad. He has to grow up and become a warrior.”
The father also has to learn to trust the son. “That’s hard for Cypher, but it’s something we all have to do as parents. Our children succeed or fail on their own, and all we can do as parents is watch,” says Will Smith. “It’s very much a coming-of-age story for both parent and child.”
Setting the scene:
“Earth just gave up on humans,” says Jaden, who stars as a young man forced to navigate the harsh terrain left behind when his spacecraft crashes on the forbidden planet. “Tsunamis, toxic air, toxic water, toxic food, extreme weather, it was like Earth said, ‘You have to get off of me,’ and that’s what humans did.”
“Kitai feels a lot of pressure to step into his father’s shoes,” says Jaden. “Also, Kitai blames himself for his sister’s death. She died years ago in an attack that Kitai thinks he should have done something to stop and he thinks his dad blames him, too. So the relationship between Kitai and his father is broken, and Kitai is trying to fix it; he’s trying too hard to get his father’s respect and approval.”
Dad Will chimes in with “What I thought was really interesting about this film was that it’s huge in scope, but it comes down to a simple idea that every person in the audience can relate to: it’s a father and son story. I think that’s what audiences will really connect with, seeing the father try to connect with the son, to teach him, with life-or-death consequences.”
Crash landed on a hostile Earth the most important lesson for dad to teach son is to conquer his fear. “Every parent knows when his or her child is lying to them because they’re scared of something,” says Will. “And every parent has a different way of dealing with that. In After Earth, we have a father trying to command and control his son from a distance, but at the end of the day, once your child goes out of the house, you’ve taught them all you can. They have to learn the rest on their own. For me, in this movie, the extreme landscape makes these parent-and-child relationships huge, life-threatening.”
The basic idea for the movie came from Will and Jaden:
The origins of the project began with an ordinary evening at home. After making The Karate Kid, as Jaden and his parents were considering the teen’s next project, it was important to both Smiths to work together again. “Jaden and I were sitting around one night, watching TV and talking about how we’d liked working together on Pursuit of Happyness, and that we might want to do that again,” says Will.
“As we’re talking about looking for that story, with the news on in the background, Jaden says, ‘Maybe I’m your son, I’m in trouble, and you have to come home from war.’ That turned into an idea of a father and son who go off on a bonding trip to Alaska, and they have to get through the wilderness. It was just fun, an interesting conversation until we juxtaposed the idea of setting the story a thousand years in the future and then the whole concept of After Earth started to explode in our minds.”
Jaden really had to train physically to play Kitai in the movie:
Jaden Smith’s experience with physical training goes back years, to the days before the filming of The Karate Kid, but he says it took on a new dimension as he prepared to play Kitai Raige, training two hours each day, five days a week, for nearly a year. “I did a lot of work. I had to change,” he says. “I had to get a lot bigger and put on weight so I could look a bit older. I did a lot of parkour and running and training, so I’d be ready to run through the forest and on rocks.”
“Jaden is very serious about his training and his physicality. He’d do it during his down time. We didn’t push him at all,” says Will Smith.
On working in actual locations not just sound stages:
“When we shot Ali in Mozambique, I learned the value of actually going to a place and being submerged into the environment. There’s a certain energy and attitude that gets set into your gut when you are in the actual environment, and I wanted Jaden to experience that.”
One example, one scene, shot in Costa Rica, required Jaden Smith to climb down out of a tree. “Well, Jaden is coming down the tree and he looks over and there’s a monkey, a real monkey, sitting in the tree, watching him. It startled Jaden a little, and they caught his reaction on camera,” says Will.
Filming near the Arenal Volcano was another way to get a sincere reaction out of Jaden Smith. “They put me next to a volcano and said, ‘Don’t worry, it stopped being active fourteen months ago”. I was like, “that didn’t really take away the worry,” he remembers. “It was fun, but it was hard to run up it, considering the fact that I thought it was going to erupt any second.”
After Earth is in theaters May 31st!!