"When I look back on my career," Will Smith said in 1995, "I want to have a somewhat dazzling, eclectic portfolio." Back then, Will was best known for his role in the TV series The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. These days he's well on the way to achieving his goal, having scooped an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali and a second nod for true-life story The Pursuit Of Happyness.
He's even said he thinks he's capable of running for the White House, although he denies he is planning on doing so in the near future.
Born in Philadelphia in 1968, Willard Smith Junior was nicknamed "Prince" by a high school teacher in reference to his regal attitude and ability to talk his way out of difficult situations. Will added "Fresh" from street slang meaning "cool" when he teamed up with DJ Jazzy Jeff to form a rap duo in 1981. The two released their first single five years later, Girls Ain't Nothin' But Trouble
, and in 1988 they won a Grammy for the album He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper.
The ever-charming Will parlayed his success into a role on the career-making sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
, which aired from 1991 to 1996.
In 1993, Will took his first step away from his squeaky clean "Fresh Prince" image to make the indie flick Six Degrees Of Separation,
in whcih he plays a young gay hustler fooling an affluent white couple into believing he is Sidney Poitier
's son. He more than held his own amid a cast of seasoned talent which included Donald Sutherland.
Two years later, the actor proved his box-office pull in the action comedy Bad Boys
alongside fellow sitcom star Martin Lawrence. The movie, made on a modest budget, grossed $65 million in the US, and the rapper-turned-actor saw his own earning power soar over the $5 million mark a rarity for a black actor in Hollywood.
Will followed up with two back-to-back hits, sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day
in 1996, and slick action-comedy Men In Black
a year later. The latter inevitably led to a sequel, Men In Black II,
released in 2002.
While basking in the immediate success of Men In Black
, Will's personal life also shifted into a new gear. In 1997 he married Jada Pinkett, whom he had met on the set of The Fresh Prince.
The couple have a son, Jaden, born the following year, and a daughter, Willow, who arrived in 2000.
With his A-list credentials cemented, Will has varied his feature film dance card, acting in 1998 thriller Enemy Of The State
and playing a mystical golf caddy in Robert Redford
's 2000 flick The Legend Of Bagger Vance
. A key role came when he realised a long-held dream by portraying Muhammad Ali in the Michael Mann biopic Ali
, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.
These days Will is one of Hollywood's most bankable leading men, with a trio of blockbusters - Bad Boys II
, I, Robot
- under his belt. The actor still manages to combine the popcorn with the potent in his movie choices, however, mixing thought-provoking roles such as that of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit Of Happyness
, for which he received his second Best Actor nomination, with lighter fare.