In its first 10-episode season, Jada Pinkett Smith’s highly successful web series, Red Table Talk, was a lot of things. It was a place of reckoning, remembrance, reconciliation and revelations by Pinkett Smith, daughter Willow Smith, mother Adrienne Banfield-Jones, and any number of well-known friends and guests.
Kicking off their second season this month, the Smith family decided to address the elephant in the room, pulling the curtain back on the much speculated-about marriage of Pinkett Smith and megastar husband Will Smith. Will joined the women of his family around the red table for a conversation about the couple’s 21-year marriage.
In the first segment of the two-part discussion, titled “Becoming Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” it was quickly revealed that, as with most longtime couples, a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to maintain their seemingly perfect Hollywood marriage. The two recall how they met (Will was still married to ex-wife Sheree Zampino; he and Jada became an item during his separation) and started a family, which stalled Jada’s acting career just as Will’s was becoming stratospheric.
It’s not an uncommon story in Hollywood or for those in less high-profile unions. As Jada described getting “lost” in the marriage, no doubt any number of women (and perhaps more than a few men) were nodding along. Along with the fantasies attendant with being a movie star, Will, in particular, was caught up in the fantasy of marriage, which Jada admits she never aspired to. Ultimately, it was almost their undoing.
“I think I was trying to live up to an idea for him,” Jada said.
In Part Two, “Our Unique Union,” the two touched on breakup rumors. After admitting in the first segment that there was a period of at least a year where Jada cried every morning, the two ultimately “broke up within [their] marriage and got back together again, and had to rebuild with new rules and something way completely different,” according to Will.
“We essentially had to destroy our marriage,” he also said. “She was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and to me ... it was over, but divorce was never even an option.”
“It never crossed my mind,” Pinkett Smith said. “We just needed to get to an agreement between he and I.”
Despite longtime and rampant rumors to the contrary, the couple claims that agreement didn’t involve Scientology—or becoming swingers, which they agree is “a very specific lifestyle.” In fact, if there was any big reveal during the round table, it was that Will ultimately became self-aware enough to realize his outsized ego and need for applause were interfering with his marriage.
Aside from Jada neither wanting a marriage nor a wedding, Will admitted to projecting his desires onto his family, whether it be building an incredible house he claimed was for Jada (“you built this for you,” she told him), or throwing her a ridiculously large 40th birthday bash when she’d “just wanted to have intimate time.” (The contrast in the couple’s personalities seems to be a specific hurdle they had to overcome).
“She told me that the party was the most ridiculous display of my ego,” Will said. “To this day I know I was crushed, because it was true. It wasn’t a party for her.”
Jada’s 40th birthday marked a turning point in the marriage, along with Willow’s rebellion following the breakout success of her music single, “Whip My Hair.” When the then-preteen decided she was “done” with her music career, her father resisted. Willow’s response? To shave her head.
“I had a crazy realization in that moment,” Will said. “I was building what I wanted for her, and she tried all of the different ways to say ‘I don’t want that’... And I saw, for the first time, what Jada had been saying the whole time, about hiding behind my ego and my dreams and my desires, and pretending like it’s love. And I realized that she didn’t want none of the stuff I had built.”
The two went their “separate ways” for a while; at least, emotionally. Will took a two-year break from the big screen to immerse himself in self-help books on relationships and behavioral psychology, while Jada said “I had to go away, gain my strength as Jada again—not Mommy, not wife.”
According to the pair, reconciling meant redefining the terms of their union, and while they don’t go into detail on what those revised terms are (so I guess we’re all still free to speculate), the two claim they are now happier than they’ve ever been in their lives.
“Will and I have decided to even throw away the concept of marriage,” Jada said. “It’s a life partnership in the sense that we created a foundation together that we know is for this lifetime.”
Will agreed, saying, “There’s nothing that could happen that we won’t be together and love each other.”
Would it have been easier to just get a divorce? Maybe. But as Will told Jada across the red table, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Cause I’ve never met anyone like you, and I knew if I wasn’t with you, I’d be searching in vain for the rest of my life.”
Awww ... sounds like a Hollywood ending.