Two years ago, we caught up with Jaden Smith in Calabasas, California. Then, at 14 years old, he was gearing up for the release of his film After Earth and working on short films, skating, and music.
Thonk! In a conference room at his father Will's production company, Jaden Smith leans back in his chair and plops his foot down on the table. "Look at my shoe!" he says. This isn't the beginning of a martial arts move half-remembered from Smith's 2010 Karate Kid remake; he's just showing off his weathered sneaker to prove how passionate he is about his current obsession. "My shoelace got ripped off skating," he exclaims. "I don't have a shoelace!"
Until he reminds you with his giddy testimonial, it's easy to forget that Smith is still a kid. Unlike your average moody, insecure teenager, Smith speaks with confidence of his movie-star father, and the easy braggadocio of rappers twice his age. It's no wonder that when you ask him how old his "Whip My Hair"-singing sister Willow is, he pauses. "I don't know!" he sais finally, since age ain't nothin' but a number in the overachieving Smith household. "She acts like a 30-year-old." (For the record, she's 12.)
His latest film, the M. Night Shyamalan directed After Earth, is out this June. Even though Will cos-tars, this one is strictly Jaden's show: Once their intersellar characters crash-land on Earth, he must make his own through an unforgiving landscape and ensure their rescue. Many box-office blockbusters are aimed at teen boys, but rarely do they srar one, especially in a production this arduous. "The last movie I did, nobody spoke English, and in this movie, I'm completely myself," he notes wryly. "I'm waiting for the day when I can be in a movie with someone I can actually have a conversation with!"
Though he tends to fly solo in the movies, Smith's off-screen social life is more crowded: In addition to friends Justin Bieber and actor Moises Arias, he's been rumored to date Kardashian sibling Kylie Jenner. "A lot of girls like Sophia Richie or Kylie or Kendall [Jenner] or Ariana Grande, it's cool to hang out with them, but it is kinda like two magnifying glasses on us because it's two times the paparazzi," Smith says. Of course, he earns tabloid attention even when he doesn't go out; in March, rumors flew that Bieber's birthday was ruined when he couldn't sneak the underage Smith into a British nightclub. As it turns out, Smith was actually at a Kanye West concert. "The funny thing is, I could have gone, and I didn't feel like it; that's not my vibe," he says. "I knew something like that was going to happen...eve though I didn't do anything!"
Smith doesn't sweat the paparazzi; he's more concerned with how he's perceived in the skate world, especially since his clothing line, MSFTSrep, is aimed at that audience. Last August, he showed off his boarding prowess in his video "Pumped Up Kicks (Like Me)," and he's still trying to live it down. "It was probably one of the greatest things I did for my rap career, and one of the worst," he groans. "I wasn't dressing like I wanted to be dressing at the time, even though I was dressing myself. The raps weren't how I wanted the raps to be. All the skater kids were like, 'Oh snap, Jaden's rapping, lemme check it out,' and that video gave them a reason to go, 'Yep, Jaden's wack, I knew it.'"
But don't worry: It takes more than that to bring Jaden Smith down. Ask him about the short films he's working on with Arias ("We're really just trying to take over all the film festivals") or the four-on-four beats on his recent mixtape The Cool Cafe, and Smith can't help but boast. "People are gonna look back and be like, 'Jaden was doing that way before [other rappers], and it was way ahead of its time,'" says Smith. "There's some absolute genius in The Cool Cafe that people won't realize until I'm very old, or until I've passed away. There's something genius in thetre that some people are just too young to understand."