Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have been married for 20 years, and in that time the two have enjoyed successful Hollywood careers, both as actors and as producing partners. Yet the two have rarely shared the screen together, the notable exception being when the real-life couple played husband and wife in the 2001 biopic Ali. Will Smith played the titular boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Jada Pinkett Smith played his first wife, Sonji Roi. Although playing married characters might seem like an easy transition, Jada Pinkett Smith originally didn't want to star opposite her real-life husband, as she explained:
I didn't want to audition for this. I did not want to be in this movie with Will. I felt like because we were a couple off screen, for people to see us together on the screen in a movie like this, would take people out of the movie, that people would see Will and Jada there --- they wouldn't see Ali and Sonji.
With what celebrity culture is and how much focus there is on celebrity couples, you can definitely see how Jada Pinkett Smith might be apprehensive about starring in Ali opposite her husband. The thought being that some audiences might see the couple that appears in tabloids and on red carpets, and thus not get as immersed in the film as they otherwise would. This might be true for any movie, but I imagine it was especially true for a movie like Ali that is about real people. There is a desire on the part of the actors, in this case Jada Pinkett Smith, to be respectful and do justice to that story and those people, and part of that is keeping the focus on the characters and not the stars playing them.
Jada Pinkett Smith further elaborated to People's Couch Surfing that in addition to not wanting to be in Ali with her husband, she didn't even think that director Michael Mann would really want her for the role of Sonji Roi. Perhaps she thought he didn't like her for the part or perhaps she thought that he shared the same concerns about having a real-life couple onscreen together, but she thought wrong. Jada Pinkett Smith auditioned and Michael Mann wanted her for the part. He basically wouldn't take no for an answer, so she trusted him and took on the role opposite her husband.
It all worked out fairly well too, as Ali netted Will Smith a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance. And while the film is perhaps not as great as the boxer himself, I don't think the husband and wife acting duo took people out of the film. That is one hallmark of a good actor and a good film, making the audience forget that you are just playing a part and that you have a life outside the silver screen.
Will Smith next takes on the iconic role of the Genie in Disney's live-action remake of Aladdin on May 24, 2019. Jada Pinkett Smith will appear in the Olympus Has Fallen sequel Angel Has Fallen, which is also arriving sometime next year. Check out our premiere guide for all of this year's biggest releases, and for all your movie news, stay tuned to CinemaBlend.