Will Smith: My Work Ethic Is "Sickening"

Star Tells Steve Kroft It Compensates For Average Talent

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This segment was originally broadcast on Dec. 2, 2007. It was updated on June 26, 2008.

Of all the stories in Hollywood, there is not another one like Will Smith's. At age 39, he has already had three successful careers: Grammy award winning rapper, sitcom sensation, and finally one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.

With two Oscar nominations and almost four and a half billion dollars in box office receipts to his credit, a movie starring Will Smith is about as close as you get to having a sure thing, whether it's science fiction, romantic comedy, or a summer blockbuster, like his latest effort, "Hancock," which opens nationwide on July 2.

And as correspondent Steve Kroft first reported last December, there is an ease and enthusiasm about him that transcends race and cultural boundaries, and it is one of the reasons so many people like him.

Asked what he thinks his appeal is, Smith tells Kroft, "I love living, I think that's infectious. It's somethin' that you can't fake."

"And I think that the camera can feel that I'm happy doin' what I do. And it's somethin' that gets inside of people," he adds.

It is swagger with a smile, confidence with cool, and wit grounded in wisdom -- someone who knows who he is, and where he is going. And it has made him one of the most popular and powerful actors in Hollywood.

Why does he think he has been so successful?

"I've never really viewed myself as particularly talented. I've viewed myself as slightly above average in talent. And where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic. You know, while the other guy's sleeping? I'm working. While the other guy's eatin'? I'm working. While the other guy's making love, I mean, I'm making love, too. But I'm working really hard at it," he tells Kroft, laughing.

That he makes it look just the opposite is testament to his personality and his skill as an actor. He likes the fact that you never see him sweat unless you are supposed to, or notice the emotional capital expended as a homeless father with a hungry son, or the commitment it took to become Muhammad Ali.

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Or the sheer challenge of his last film "I Am Legend," in which he was required to hold the screen, all by himself, for over an hour, as the survivor of biological outbreak that has wiped out most of the world. And he managed to pull it off.

The instincts and the work ethic come from his middle class upbringing in Philadelphia. His mother was a school administrator, his father owned a refrigeration company.

One summer, his dad tore down a brick wall in the front of his business and told 12-year-old Will and his 9-year-old brother to rebuild it, a job they said was impossible. It took them a year and a half, but they did it.

"And he said, 'Now, don't you ever tell me there's somethin' that you can't do.' And walked right through that door, went inside. And me and my brother stood here and looked. And said, 'Daddy crazy as hell, ain't he?'" Smith recalls, laughing.

The wall is still there, and so is the lesson he learned from building it. "I just put my head down and lay the first brick," Smith explains.

Later that afternoon, outside the Philadelphia house where he grew up, Smith and Kroft ran into his father. Asked what kind of kid Will Smith was, if he was trouble, his father told Kroft, "Not at all. Not at all."

"Listen, anytime you're willin' to choke your kids, there ain't gonna be no trouble," Smith joked, laughing.

It was part of a tour that included what he called the best cheese steak in Philly, and a trip to his alma mater, Overbrook High, the same school that produced basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain.

A few minutes, later Smith and Kroft were besieged. As Smith tells it, he was a B-student who should have been making A's. But the teachers were so charmed they called him "the prince."

Smith has a natural tendency to draw everyone into a spotlight that began shining on him before he ever left Overbrook High, like Charlie Mack, his old friend, and Jeff Townes, his partner in a teen rap duo called "DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince."

There was something mesmerizing about the Fresh Prince and the videos that helped move the music from the streets into the mainstream. They won the first Grammy ever awarded for rap, providing the show business platform that would eventually launch Will Smith into the stratosphere.