TONY COX, host:

This is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox. Actor, singer, songwriter and director are just some of the titles associated with Jada Pinkett Smith. In a career that started almost 20 years ago with roles on TV shows such as "True Colors," "21 Jump Street" and "A Different World," Jada Pinkett Smith has gone on to star in blockbuster movies including "The Matrix" sequels, "Set It Off," "Ali" and "Collateral." Younger film fans also know her as the voice of Gloria in "Madagascar." Now, Jada Pinkett Smith is adding another string to her artistic bow: as executive producer on the soon-to-be-released medical drama "Hawthorne," on TNT. She also plays the lead character. Jada Pinkett Smith, welcome to News & Notes. It's a pleasure to have you on.

Ms. JADA PINKETT SMITH (Actor; Singer; Songwriter; Director): Oh, thank you so much.

COX: We're going to talk about "Hawthorne" in a moment, but I have to ask you this because I read this about you and I want to know if it's true. Were you really named for a soap opera star?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: (Laughing) That's what my mother says.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Well, you know, she was a young mother. She had me at 18. So one of, I think, her favorite character on the soap opera, her real name was Jada, and that's what she named me.

COX: Oh, that's a beautiful name.

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Thank you.

COX: But that's a great story.

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Thank you.

COX: Talking about names, let's talk about Cristina Hawthorne.


COX: That's the new character on your show "Hawthorne," which you are the executive producer of and also the lead. What's that story about?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: The show itself is about everyday people who do extraordinary things, and we're focusing on a community of nurses in this hospital. And it's a dramedy. And where most medical shows, they focus on, you know, some type of medical crisis, we really focus on the lives of people surrounding a medical crisis, not necessarily the medical crisis itself, but the emotional impact in the private lives of patients that come in. So not only are these nurses trying to heal some physical aspect of the patient, but they're also trying to heal some - an aspect of their soul through their interactions. And, you know, I got - my mother's a nurse. She was a nurse. She was an RN, and that a huge part of - in having been in a hospital before, a huge part of nursing is caretaking of the soul as well. So basically, that's what the show really is about.

COX: What's Cristina like? Are we going to like her? Is she tough like all the other women who now have shows on TNT like Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter? Is she tough broad...

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Well, you know, she's got a lot of heart. She really does. I mean, she's a woman who is head of all the nursing of this particular facility, so she's a woman that's about her business, but at the same time, she's a really open, funny, loving person. She's also dealing with a tragedy of her own. She's a widow. She just lost her husband to cancer and she's trying to raise a teenage daughter. I would say, is she a strong woman? Yes, but I wouldn't say she's tough in the sense of like, macho, or even in how people have seen me before. I think it will definitely be a different side of not necessarily Jada, but see a different character, probably, that I haven't really played.

COX: Something new.

Ms. SMITH: Something new.

COX: All right, we're talking with Jada Pinkett. Let me ask you this, Jada, because you don't appear to have any bias towards working in television, obviously. You're going to do this new show on TNT. Some actors, though, have in the past, and my question is this. What has changed about working in TV? Is it just to be able to work or is it being creative? Is it keeping one's name out there or maybe because of cable, there's more freedom now?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Well, you know, for me, it wasn't any of those things. For me, I felt it was an opportunity for me to grow producorially(ph), and I felt like it was an opportunity for me to grow creatively. TV has a certain pace and a certain grind that for my personality, I need. And so, I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to sharpen my storytelling skills because every week, we have to deliver a fantastic script. So, it puts you into the fire. I felt like three months out of the year, I really love the schedule of cable, and it allowed me to be in the lab intensively for three months out of the year, and then I have the rest of the year to do whatever I want.

COX: You've done a million different things. You were in "Collateral," "Menace II Society," of course. You were Gloria in "Madagascar," Lena James back in "A Different World" - all these different things that you've done. And I have read that you and your husband have a philosophy about acting. I want to ask you about that. And it's this: the connecting with an audience on an emotional level, how important that is. And how are you able to do that?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Well, I feel like connecting with, you know, all audiences, you know, because I've also had a metal band. I've also done comic books and I've also done Flash - comic Flash for "I Am Legend" and comic books for "I Am Legend." For me, I like diving into all different areas in which - and relating to people. And I feel like to me, art is a ladder to God, in my own opinion, you know. And so, for me, the more people that I can reach through many different artistic avenues, the better. It's very important to erase those boundaries, especially in dealing with - in a creative world. And because I'm an African-American woman, it's even more important that for me - that black women are given the respect and are given the opportunity to make choices of what lanes we decide we want to be in and that nobody is dictating those lanes for us.

COX: You know, you took a great, big eraser, Jada Pinkett, to those ideas with Wicked Wisdom, didn't you?


COX: I mean, when I saw that video of you, I was like, oh, my God, that's Jada Pinkett singing rock - metal rock. Is that - am I saying it right?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Yeah, or metal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Now, let's talk about you, Jada Pinkett, the person. Born in Maryland, apparently your grandmother played a big part in getting you into the business - like a lot of black folks's grandmothers did.


COX: You're a singer, director, songwriter, actress, dancer, producer, wife, mother, philanthropist, granddaughter, daughter. Which of those is first for you?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: I would say the one that is first is being Jada - is the woman. In order for me to do all of those things, I have to be very clear on who I am, you know, and have a lot of - I don't know, just confidence in what I'm doing and just in who I'm being. That has to be first and foremost in order to facilitate all of those areas.

COX: You know, sort of like being on an airplane when they tell you, when that air mask drops down in case of an emergency. Put yours on first.

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: That's right. Put your mask on first. That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: That's a great analogy.

COX: Let me ask you this, because you're in the spotlight in a major way, both with your career and particularly because of your relationship with Will.


COX: Do you feel dogged at all in terms of this public responsibility, or lack of as far as your personal life is concerned, when there are always things in the press about you and about Will and about Scientology, and about the school that you established and what's being taught there and the kind of marriage that you have and the relationships that you have with each other - and other people, perhaps. Does this dog you, this kind of interest?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: You know what, not really. You know, I definitely respect and understand people's curiosity. You know, and well, people, they have to trust me when I speak on my truth. That's really the bottom line. And so, if you're dealing with people, if I say to you I don't have an open marriage, no, we're not gay. You know, then - and you don't trust that, well, there's nothing that we - that I really have to say to anybody about anything because at the end of the day, I'm living my life and I'm happy. I definitely want to make it very clear to everybody that the educational institution that we have, the school that Will and I have, is not a Scientology school. And that, you know, I know there's been, you know, a lot of buzz around that idea and that it is not my desire to, you know, teach Scientology at all. And that the method of teaching in which we use, you know, is a product of L. Ron Hubbard, which a lot of schools in L.A. use that are not affiliated with Scientology at all. So I just need your audiences to know that it is not a desire of ours to educate children with Scientology, that is not what Will and I want to do. And our school is not, and I repeat, not a Scientology school.

COX: That's about as clear, I think, as it can be made, wouldn't you say?

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: I think so.

COX: I once interviewed your husband, actually - this is a number of years ago, back during his "Fresh Prince" days. What struck me about Will on that particular day was how much he seemed to really enjoy what he was doing.


COX: Is that true of you too, that you really like this?

Ms. PINKETT SMITTH: Yeah, we love what we do. You know, creation is part of our life, like we love, love, love, love, love to create. And I feel so blessed that I found a partner that understands just that part of me and can share that with me and, you know, understands the business and all of the ins and outs of that. I don't know if I could have had a partner that was outside of my creative life.

COX: Final thing is this: You've been involved politically over the last several months, for sure. I'm not sure how far back it goes. I know that you were supportive of the Obama campaign, and I've read that you would love to play Michelle Obama. Now, Jada Pinkett, how are you going to play Michelle Obama? She's almost 6 feet tall.

Ms. PINKETT SMITTH: Well, I've always said it would be dream. I never said it would happen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: I never said it would happen but, you know, I really love Michelle, and I find her to be an extraordinary woman.

COX: Jada Pinkett Smith, it has been a wonderful time talking - I could talk to you all day long but I know you've got to go make some money, and I've got to go and try to find another job. So, it's wonderful talking to you.

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: I'm glad we had this opportunity.

COX: Thank you very much. Good luck with "Hawthorne," we'll be watching.

Ms. PINKETT SMITH: Thank you so much.

COX: All righty, bye-bye.


COX: That was actor, songwriter and director Jada Pinkett Smith. Her new medical drama, "Hawthorne," will air on TNT beginning in June.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. GWEN TALLER: Hi, I'm Lynn Toller, host of a television show and author, and I'll miss News & Notes because I'll miss Farai and her unique perspective on things.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: This is NPR News.

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