Monday, May. 08, 2006

Will Smith

He has become our designated Wise Guy — the cool dude confronting aliens, villains and wary, foxy chicks while armored in nothing more than a knowing attitude and an enviable wardrobe. But Will Smith, 37, is something more than clothes and quips. What we always sense about the Wise Guy is that he's essentially a Sweet Guy, eager to learn, eager to please, eager to be heroically helpful and romantically obliging. He may be our most insinuating movie star and, amid all his studly competitors, the one with the lowest profile. Mostly he lives quietly (with wife Jada Pinkett Smith and his three kids) and works hard.

It could have been otherwise, for he began his public life as a rapper at age 12 and was TV's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when barely in his 20s. Youthful stardom can be toxic to a performer, but his ambition for better things paradoxically kept him centered. His performance as a kid pretending to be Sidney Poitier's son in the movie version of Six Degrees of Separation made him an actor to be reckoned with, while such roles as the smooth street cop opposite Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys and the edgy rookie to Tommy Lee Jones' seen-it-all alien chaser in Barry Sonnenfeld's great Men in Black, made him a star. Last year's megahit Hitch, in which love—and Smith—conquered all, even the critics, proved his durability. He once said he wanted his career to be both "dazzling" and "eclectic." It's a goal he has pretty much achieved.