Good celebrities understand how to turn their personal lives into a public point of fascination, but great celebrities know how to make a living from it. (Hey, Taylor.) Our current era of nano-news cycles and obsessive fan culture—now often combined via live updates of the @PopCrave and @DeuxMoi ilk—has given way to an insatiable appetite for any morsel of celebrity comportment that may offer a glimpse into their real selves. Weeks-long cultural discourses sustain themselves on theoretical feuds and spitgates. So when things go dramatically, unambiguously off-script, as with “The Slap” of the 2022 Oscars that embroiled Chris Rock, Will Smith, and Jada Pinkett Smith, complete frenzy ensues.
For Jada Pinkett Smith, walking the line between sharing and oversharing about her personal life—especially as part of an extremely famous, extremely scrutinized power couple—has been a decade-long dilemma, stemming most famously from 2013, when misconstrued remarks in an interview prompted speculation of an open marriage. In 2018, when Pinkett Smith started hosting the strikingly candid Red Table Talk series on Facebook Watch with her family, perhaps inevitably, the multihyphenate used a 2020 episode of the talk show to address rumors about her and Smith’s relationship. Viewers remain divided on whether so much disclosure was brave or cringe, but it’s undeniable that “entanglement” and “Red Table” have since shifted from an individual’s private matter into cultural idiom. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that post-Slap, Pinkett Smith was always going to have more to say.
In her recounting of that notorious Oscars night in her new memoir, Worthy, the actor reveals that The Slap proved to be a critical point in what had been a yearslong separation in their marriage. “What I knew, for the first time in six years since our breakup, was that I would stand with him in this storm as his wife, no matter what,” Pinkett Smith writes. “I had not felt that way in a long time. I would not abandon him, nor would I fight his fight for him like I had tried to do so many times in the past.”
Elsewhere in the memoir, Pinkett Smith takes the reader along a broad overview of her life, starting from her earliest remembrances as a Baltimore native navigating her love for the performing arts alongside her parents’ drug addiction, all the way to the upper recesses of the fairy-tale life that came with Hollywood—which, as becomes a common theme in Worthy, has since caused Pinkett Smith to wrestle endlessly with the belief “that if we achieve enough, we’re exempt from our shadow.” Think of Worthy as the Matrix Reloaded and Madagascar star’s full-length attempt to “Red Table” herself in entirety. In reading through her discussions of everything from suicidal ideation to ayahuasca ceremonies, one arrives at the feeling that Pinkett Smith has mastered, and perhaps also earned, her grip over any remaining taboos we pretend to have about oversharing.
In conversation with Vanity Fair, Pinkett Smith sits down to discuss milestones and meaning making in life—and what the rest of us are still getting wrong.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Vanity Fair: In today’s culture, the act of “telling your story” is understood as something that’s important and almost necessary for self-actualization. But how does someone with your kind of spotlight do that? I’m curious how you decide what to share publicly, whether it’s via this book or, say, back during the Red Table Talk days.
Jada Pinkett Smith: You try not to strategize ahead of time, and you try to figure out what’s enough to offer for the purpose. Sometimes, you can’t offer too much. You know what I mean? It’s that fine line of like, okay, if your purpose is to help to share your journey to self-worth in order to inspire people who might be in a hopeless place on their journey, you want to keep people wanting to move forward in a certain direction with you. But you have to feel it out as you go.
Has there been a moment when you’ve regretted offering too much?
No, I don’t have regrets. I have remorse, but not regret. Because I do feel like everything happens for a reason. I’m here to learn.
Ever since “The Slap” happened during the 2022 Oscars, I’ve been wondering how it feels for you to be in this very famous marriage, where you are expected to play a certain role that’s not entirely unlike a part onscreen.