Will Smith Says There Was No Nepotism With Jaden Smith Playing His Son In 'Pursuit Of Happyness'

The then 6-year-old auditioned an unprecedented nine times to get the role.

Being the offspring of the on-screen superstar Will Smith doesn’t automatically make one a nepotism baby. Jaden Smith experienced this firsthand when he had to audition to play Chris Gardner’s (played by Will Smith) son in the 2006 movie, “Pursuit of Happyness.” 

The award-winning biographical drama details the story of Gardner struggling to live the American dream alongside his young son, Christopher Gardner Jr. While Will took the leading role, and it seemed second nature to cast Jaden, Jaden had to fight for the role, like any young actor would, and he fought harder.

Smith shared in his self-titled memoir, “[Jaden] was asked to audition an unprecedented nine separate times. The studio simply didn’t want the problems that came along with casting him. But audition after audition, in all of his innocent, 6-year-old glory, he proved himself the right actor for the role.”

During a Full Send podcast interview, Smith shared details of Jaden ultimately landing the role. He shared, “So we were looking for a kid. Gabriele Muccino was the director. So we were reading kids, reading kids, reading kids. And Gabriele is an Italian artist and if it’s not exactly how he wants it… he’s super passionate. And he just couldn’t find the right chemistry. He literally read 40 kids.”

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Jaden suggested that he get the role. Will shared Jaden's story and told him that he could play it. 

“[Jaden] says, ‘I can do that, daddy,’” Will recalled. “I was like, ‘You can do what?’ And he’s like, ‘Duh, play your son… I’m your son every day, daddy.’”

The director immediately teared up when Will took Jaden in for a reading. 

“He was like, ‘It has to be Jaden,’” Will said. While the film’s director was convinced, the studio heads weren’t. They thought it would take away from the film and feel too much like nepotism. Will’s company, Overbook Entertainment, was also producing the film, so in the interest of optics and fairness, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith removed themselves from the decision-making process, and Jaden went through the entire audition process. And he killed it!

“Ultimately, the studio agreed,” Will shared.

It’s good that Will and Jaden decided to do the film. Will admitted that he almost passed on it because he wasn’t convinced the story could be a box office hit. “The Pursuit of Happyness” topped the box office's opening week and grossed nearly $164,000,000 in the United States and Canada. It also earned Will a Best Actor nomination at the 2007 Academy Awards.

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