According to the actor, Jaden auditioned “nine separate times” for the role of his on-screen son.
Will said that the studio pushed back in part because casting Jaden “would seem like nepotism.”
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“[Director] Gabriele Muccino had been struggling to cast the perfect actor to play my son,” Smith recalled in his self-titled memoir released on November 9. “He had seen nearly 500 kids. Gabriele is an instinctual, intuitive artist — things have to feel right for him.”
“The Pursuit of Happyness” was produced by Columbia Pictures and based on a memoir written by Chris Gardner. Will portrayed Gardner, a struggling salesman, and Jaden portrayed his son, Christopher Gardner, Jr. The film marked Jaden’s film debut and earned Will his second Oscar nomination.
Will said that around the time of casting for “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Jaden, then 6 years old, expressed an interest in acting. So, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, his wife, agreed to allow their son to audition for the film.
“I wanted Jaden for this role from the first moment I met him, but the studio forbade me from asking you,” Muccino said, according to Smith. “The studio felt like it was a death sentence for the film from a marketing standpoint. They felt that people wouldn’t be able to suspend disbelief seeing Jaden and you on camera as father and son.”
Jaden Smith and Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Columbia Pictures
The “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star said that Jaden was also not considered because of the perceived favoritism and preferential treatment.
“The studio also felt that it would seem like nepotism, and just put us in the hole from the first announcement,” Will wrote in his memoir. “At Gabriele’s pleasing, they agreed to allow him to put Jaden and me on camera as a chemistry test.”
“It was such a touchy subject at the studio that Jada and I removed ourselves from the decision-making process,” the actor said, adding that “there were conflicts of interest everywhere we looked.”
According to Will, Jaden “was asked to audition an unprecedented nine separate times.”
“The studio simply didn’t want the problems that came along with casting him,” he said. “But audition after audition, in all of his innocent, 6-year-old glory, he proved himself the right actor for the role.”
The “Men in Black” actor said that Pinkett Smith got frustrated when the studio asked Jaden to audition a 10th time.
“She informed Gabriele and the studio that Jaden was no longer available for the role,” Will said. “At which point, Gabriele — the bleeding, passionate artist that he is — decided that he was emotionally incapable of making the film without Jaden.”
“The studio relented and offered Jaden the role of Christopher Jr. in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness,’” he said.
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