Will Smith - live: actor recalls how Quincy Jones helped him get part in Fresh Prince of Bel Air

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Will Smith poses at the ‘Bad Boys for Life’ launching photocall in Madrid on 8 January 2020 (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
Will Smith poses at the ‘Bad Boys for Life’ launching photocall in Madrid on 8 January 2020 (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

Will Smith is in London for a special evening of conversation with Idris Elba and special guests.

The night, ‘An Evening of Stories with Friends at the Savoy Theatre, London’, will see Smith open-up to Elba about his recent, candid memoir, Will.

A description of the evening adds: “For the first time, Will Smith opens up fully about his life, tracing his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned.”

It continues: “Joined by special guests, this will be an unforgettable evening sharing the profound journey that self-knowledge brings, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind.”

The event has now begun and has seen Smith reflecting on his childhood with Elba, how he became the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, meeting Jazzy Jeff and how he coped with seeing domestic violence in his childhood.

Follow below for all the stories from the evening.

Here’s all the key moments from the night so far

  • Welcome to the live blog

  • Will Smith opens up about his reasons for writing his memoir

  • Smith says writing the memoir was “cathartic”

Will Smith recalls death of father

21:18 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Will Smith has recalled hearing the news that his father had just “six weeks to live” in 2016.

“It is a really interesting thing when somebody knows they’re dying. Like all of the foolishness gets out of the way. Every hello maybe so rich, because we knew it was a gift...every goodbye was so deep and thorough...because we knew it could be the last one,” he recalled to Elba.

Smith recalls the pain of seeing how “frail” his father became and making peace with him at the end of his life.

“We shared a laugh,” Smith says, a few weeks before he received a final call from his father on Face Time.

“The soldier [was] gone [in him],” Smith remembered. “He’s trying to find one last piece of wisdom, [but] he’s empty,” Smith said. “I could recognise that same scared little boy inside of him that was in me,” he added.

“What I learned was the real truth of what it means to love somebody [in that moment].”

Smith recalls his incredible audition for ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ with Quincy Jones

20:53 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Will Smith has also recalled how he lost all his money a few years into his career after issues with his tax repayments.

“I was all the way back to broke,” Smith said, explaining that he had to start again from scratch.

On his road to recovery, he recalls meeting Quincy Jones who had invited him to his home.

“It was like the whose who of Hollywood,” he remembers when he arrived at Jones’ home, remembering how he was in the middle of his birthday party full of famous guests like Steven Spielberg.

Smith recalls how, in the middle of the meeting with Jones, he asked him to audition for a part “that was going to affect the rest of his life” – in front of all the other guests.

Smith was reluctant at first and asked Jones to give him a week to prepare, to which Jones told him that he must do it now as “everyone needed to make the decision to offer [you] the part is in the room.”

Smith responded: “And I just said “f*** it, give me ten minutes.”

“I did the audition to a standard ovation,” Smith says – and the same day he was offered the role in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Geoffrey Butler is in the audience!

20:35 , Elizabeth Aubrey

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Geoffrey Butler aka Joseph Marcell is in the audience.

He’s just gotten a huge shout out from Smith who is now recalling some fond memories from his time on the show.

It’s safe to say fans in the audience are happy.

“It was a spectacular time in my life,” Smith recalls.

Will delivers a rap to his son

20:32 , Elizabeth Aubrey

As Will Smith and Idris Elba discuss fatherhood, Smith broke off to deliver a rap to his first born son Trey, interspersed with comments from his memoir.

Smith described how he was “overwhelmed with responsibility” after his son was born and how he prayed to god to “please help [him] do it right,” such was his anxiety about fatherhood after his own childhood experiences.

Will Smith recalls recording his first album with DJ Jazzy Jeff in London

20:26 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Smith has recalled the time he came to London to record his first album with DJ Jazzy Jeff.

“It was the first thing I did in my life where I felt strong and I felt powerful,” Smith said of discovering and performing rap music.

“We recorded our first album at Battery Studios in London,” Smith remembered. “We stayed for three months in the Holiday Inn, Swiss Cottage,” he quipped, to laughs from the audience.

He recalls later signing with Jive Records and the influence DJ Jazzy Jeff had on his confidence and belief in himself.

“I discovered performance. I was always trying to tell jokes"

20:16 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Smith has opened up to Elba about the way he found escape from his childhood fears through performance.

“I escaped into my imagination,” Smith says, “which became this infinite playground where I could feel how I wanted to feel, where I could disappear into my dreams...as a defence mechanism. I could create these worlds and spaces in my mind.”

“I discovered performance. I was always trying to tell jokes,” Smith says, explaining that he would use humour as a “defence” to keep his family happy when the relationship with his parents was faltering. “I desperately needed the situation to be joyful and fun,” he explained.

He went on to describe how marrying comedy with rap led to the birth of the Fresh Prince character who he became famed for performing in the Nineties.

“It was born in Philadelphia!” Smith laughed, before a bunch of photographs of Smith as a child were shared with the audience. “Someone is getting fired!” he joked.

“You strike me as someone who is fearless"

20:02 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Idris Elba told Will Smith he comes across as “fearless” in his professional life, but points out how Smith discusses how much fear he felt throughout his life in his memoir.

Smith went on to specifically discuss the fear he felt when he witnessed his father attacking his mother when he was nine years old, reading a section from the first chapter of his memoir.

“It is terrifying to expose yourself to the world,” Smith said of writing the memoir. He also went on to say that the first time he spoke to his mother about the incident he witnessed as a child was in the writing of the book – they had never discussed it previously.

“It’s so cathartic to get it out,” he continued. “It can be physically debilitating to not say your truth out loud...the practice of being even able to say it out loud is freeing,” Smith explained.

“That self exploration, to be honest with yourself and to move out into your life, your relationships...with that honesty, is excruciating. But I would recommend it.

“My father would have never been able to bear the conversation,” Smith added, saying he didn’t think his father would have coped with him telling the story.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247, or visit their website here.

Will Smith opens up about his reasons for writing the memoir

19:49 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Idris Elba asked Will Smith about his reasons for writing the memoir.

“This was the first time when I [felt I] experienced enough, suffered enough and solved enough problems in my life...in order for it to be helpful,” Smith said of his reasons for writing the memoir now.

“It was the first time I felt like I could say things with an earned emotional authority that I thought could be helpful.”

“My father died in 2016. There were things in my childhood that I never would have shared while he was alive,” Smith revealed.

“I felt handcuffed in a way that I couldn’t share my full truth.”

“He was one of the greatest men I’ ever known...but there were flaws.”

You can read more about Smith’s difficult relationship with his father here:

Will Smith paid his father’s child-support debts

Will Smith opens with a rap

19:45 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Will Smith has taken to the stage at the Savoy Theatre in London with a rap - on a remix of “Will” – a Joyner Lucas song.

“You guys sound like you’re ready to have some fun tonight,” Smith shouted once he finished.

Idris Elba has now also joined him on stage. “I wanted to come out and rap too!” Elba joked.

Elba has thanked the crowd for buying all the tickets to the show “in two minutes.”

“This book is all of my blood, sweat, tears and emotional nakedness,” Smith said of his recent memoir.

Elba revealed that he’s only up to “chapter six” in the memoir so far.

“The book is incredible,” Elba said of what he’s read up to now.

The event will begin shortly

19:32 , Elizabeth Aubrey

The event is due to begin shortly – stay tuned for updates from The Savoy theatre in London where Will Smith is in conversation with Luther actor Idris Elba.

Will Smith recently earned rave reviews in ‘King Richard'

19:23 , Elizabeth Aubrey

For his turn as Venus and Serena Williams’ father in King Richard, Smith has earned much critical acclaim.

In a four star review of the film, The Independent said: “What actually makes Smith such a ferocious asset to King Richard is the one thing that couldn’t be scrubbed out. He is a true movie star in an age where there are diminishingly few – and with that comes a certain sense of command, a largeness to his presence that reaches beyond the confines of the film itself.”

You can read our full review of the film here:

Will Smith is a true movie star in King Richard – review

A memoir full of challenging revelations

19:13 , Elizabeth Aubrey

One of the most talked-about revelations from Smith’s memoir came when he opened-up about feeling suicidal, aged just 13.

Smith confessed that he contemplated suicide after his mother, who suffered physical abuse from his father, left home.

Smith writes that his mother’s departure left him feeling lonely and guilty.

It is expected that Smith may discuss this more in detail this evening.

You can read our original report about Smith’s story here:

Will Smith says he thought about suicide aged 13 after his mother left

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247, or visit their website here.

What might Will Smith open up about tonight?

19:05 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Will Smith’s memoir discussed many personal things, including how his son Jaden wanted to become emancipated from his parents when he was a minor, aged 15.

Jaden’s request came after the pair co-starred in the 2013 film After Earth, which Will described as “an abysmal box office and critical failure”.

“And what was worse was that Jaden took the hit,” Smith wrote in an extract of his new memoir obtained by People, adding: “Jaden had faithfully done everything that I’d instructed him to do, and I had coached him into the worst public mauling he’d ever experienced.”

Smith described how his “heart shattered” when Jaden asked him to become emancipated, a decision the now 23-year-old star “ultimately decided against”.

The issue was one of the most talked-about when the memoir was released. You can read more about it here:

Why did Jaden Smith ask to be legally separated from his parents?

The tell-all memoir

18:54 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Tonight, Smith will be discussing his memoir in more detail with Elba.

Many fans were so shocked by some of the revelations online that they accused Smith of “over-sharing”.

You can read our opinion piece about the matter here:

Sex, psychedelics and murderous impulses – do we know too much about Will Smith?


18:46 , Elizabeth Aubrey

Will Smith’s recently released memoir, Will, stunned readers with its content.

From his difficult childhood which led to him contemplating suicide aged just 13, to difficulties in his marriage years later, Smith’s autobiography was one of the most candid and open to come out of Hollywood for years.

Tonight, Smith will discuss some of these revelations in person with actor Idris Elba, and some other “special guests”.

The event is due to begin shortly, but until then, you can read about some of the most surprising revelations from Smith’s autobiography here:

9 of the most surprising revelations from Will Smith’s new memoir

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