‘I Am A River To My People,’ And Other Quotes From Will Smith’s Latest Nauseating Interview

Getty Image

Will Smith has a way of saying things that make me roll my eyes so hard I should probably take Dramamine before I read his interviews, and this latest piece in Esquire is no exception. It’s actually doubly fascinating/nauseating, because not only does it have the usual Will Smith pompousisms, it has the strange quality of feeling like Will Smith was interviewing himself. Esquire contributor Scott Raab apparently went to a basketball game with Smith, and there are lots of exchanges like this one:

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to tonight’s game, Will Smith!

SR: Are you conscious of that when you’re coming here—”Yeah, gonna be on the Jumbotron tonight”?

WS: Never think about it ahead of time, and then right at the moment it’s like, “Oh, damn.” This is my first game of the year. I had an interesting revelation last year during the playoffs—the value of the sport and the value of sports in general, with the life lessons, the ups and downs. The depth of the life experience, what athletes are actually offering to us when they come out and play, if you look at a season and go moment by moment.

SR: It’s a spiritual journey. It’s a physical journey. It is a metaphor for life.

WS: A beautiful metaphor. People feel it, but we don’t know.

Yes, indeed. A beautiful metaphor, sports. Blake Griffin is like Dostoyevsky in spandex underpants, whether or not people realize it. (*opens mason jar, inhales deeply, passes it*) Ooh, is this the ’94? Good vintage. I filled it after that chili dog I had outside Madison Square. (*Griffin scores*) Good show, my boy! (*waves monogrammed handkerchief in the air*) (*farts appreciately*)

And then there’s… whatever the f*ck this is:

SR: One thing I learned from my time covering the Cleveland team was lotion is very important.

WS: What was the most important use that you saw?

SR: Just to keep the skin moist. They shower a lot. They sweat hard.

WS: They wear a lot of lotion.

SR: And up to that point, I didn’t know that lotion was important. You know, I thought it was a girlie thing to do. But you gotta keep moist.

WS: I’m a cocoa-butter man. Because black people, we call it being ashy.

SR: I flake.

WS: White people get flaky, but black people get ashy. One of the worst things you can be as a child is ashy. Ashy is no good.

SR: You knew that early.

WS: My mother didn’t play ashy.

SR: She was an educator?

WS: Yeah, she grew up in Pittsburgh. She went to Carnegie Mellon.

Ah, so you see, these homespun exhortations to avoid ashyness were really just a metaphor for an educated mom trying to raise her boy to fend for himself in a harsh world. Mamma mia, that’s-a some-a tasty a-bullsh*t!

WS: I watched my grandmother and my mother at Resurrection Baptist Church, and everything was about how you help others.

SR: Service.

WS: The quality of your life was determined by the quality of your service. I’m attracted to characters who have a higher calling, who want to serve in ways where you get beyond the comfortable service and you get into the space of the sacrificial. And I really am attracted to characters who just want to do things that brighten the world. That probably is the central aspect of my personality. If you started chipping things away, if there were one thing that was really at the core, it is trying to be like my grandmother. Her entire life was in service at Resurrection Baptist Church. And she was just always happy.

Jesus. Einstein. Ghandi. Mother Theresa. Those are some of the people I try to emulate when I’m pretending to shoot fake space aliens with a ray gun.

WS: I like to look good, but I like my body to function well more than anything. For me, it’s as spiritual and intellectual as it is physical. And emotional. I’m a better husband, I’m a better father, if my body is physically functioning at the highest possible levels. I enjoy pushing myself. There is nothing like having to change your physical form to put you in contact with every weak part of yourself, to train yourself in discipline. You get confronted with all of the things you’ll be confronted with in your marriage, confronted with in your parenting, confronted with in your job.

SR: Wisdom.

WS: Put somebody on a treadmill and I’ll tell you how good they are at any other thing they do in life.

Totally. That’s why I always write in “OK Go” for president.

WS: I read a Bruce Lee quote that shifted how I’m trying to live my life right now.

I’m just going to let that one stand on its own.

We have a quote that I put up in the house from Pema Chödrön: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”

“…that which is indestructible be found in us…” sweet Jesus, that is a lot of bad passive voice constructions to squeeze into such a small sentence. Do you have any framed Pema Chödrön quotes that didn’t come from Google Translate? Or perhaps it is only to the extent that being exposed to bad writing can that which is mystical be discovered within ourselves by interviewers.

We call it leaning into the sharp parts. Something hurts, lean in. You just lean into that point until it loses its power over you. There’s a certain amount of suffering that you have to be willing to sustain if you want to have a good life. And the trick is to be able to sustain it with your heart open and still be loving. That is the real trick.

SR: Art, not science.

HOW THE F*CK IS “ART, NOT SCIENCE” IN ANY WAY A REASONABLE RESPONSE TO THAT STATEMENT? This Esquire writer reminds me of those Tinder bots that have stock, interchangeable responses to anything you say. It’s quite possibly a certain kind of genius, but at the same time, I keep expecting him to offer Will Smith a link to his cam site. “Lol, that’s crazy! Anyway, Sweetie, this game’s kind of lame…”

SR: You’ve talked about “slavery to dollars.”

WS: You never lose the mentality. It’s such a strange thing. Jaden, my sixteen-year-old, he has one pair of shoes.

Hmm, that one pair of shoes, is it the pair with his own picture on the sides I saw him wearing a few years back?

SR: That’s it?

WS: He has three pair of pants and he has five shirts.

SR: Total?

WS: Total. He has refused to be a slave to money. I so respect that.

Hmm, when you say he has three pairs of pants and five shirts, I assume that doesn’t include his clothing line? “He’s such a down-to-Earth kid! He only owns two versions of the $35 t-shirts that say ‘ART’ on them that he designs!”

SR: Are you enjoying any of the material fruits of your labor?

WS: There is a great line in Lawrence of Arabia. Anthony Quinn. “The Turks pay me a golden treasure, yet I am poor because I am a river to my people.” I just love that line. So I’m getting a T-shirt made: I AM A RIVER TO MY PEOPLE. [Esquire]

Yep. Will Smith is truly a river to his people. Specifically, the river from Labyrinth.

This interview really puts Jaden Smith into perspective, doesn’t it? Sure, he says some dumb things, but imagine what you’d be like if you’d grown up in a house full of grandiose dopes surrounded by fawning yes men. You’d probably be wearing drop-crotch skate pants with Deepak Chopra quotes on them too, at least on the weekends.