Will by Will Smith and Mark Manson is a solid portrait of the actor, with the autobiography written along with the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, a solid book with parallels to this one.
Smith grew up in Philadelphia, the son of a successful business owner, one who also beat his wife, for the last time when Will was thirteen years old. Smith’s father saw the world in terms of commanders and missions and he and his siblings were pushed by their father to succeed through hard work.
The book tells the story of a twelve by twenty cement wall that Smith and his younger brother were directed to build from scratch, when the boys were eleven and eight years old. The lesson from their father was that you show up and go to work, every day. This idea was latched onto by Smith as he developed first his career as a rapper and then movie star. He was a worker, working harder than others to get where he wanted to go.
Smith was a natural comedian and entertainer when he was a kid and from his father he got discipline, from his mother, education, from his grandmother, love. Smith came from a broken home and as such, he wanted to be the pleaser, making everyone happy. He got introduced to hip-hop as a teen and practiced incessantly to be the best hip-hop MC. He was a senior in high school when he met Jeff, three years older than him and soon to be known as DJ Jazzy Jeff and Smith's longtime partner in music. They quickly became huge in the Philadelphia hip-hop scene, recording an album, having a hit song, and hitting the road on tour. At 20, Will was a famous rapper, winning a Grammy for best rap performance with he and DJ Jazzy Jeff's song Parents Just Don't Understand and selling three million records with their album, He's the DJ. Then their next album, In This Corner..., flopped. The gangsters he hung with in Philly were all likely about to go down and Smith left for Los Angeles after asking for money to get settled from his gangster friend, with that friend shot and killed three days later as people were turning on each other with the Feds closing in.
After moving to LA, Smith was in Detroit to do a concert and got a call from Quincy Jones who wanted him to come to his birthday party that night in Brentwood. There at the party, Jones asked Smith to do an audition showing he could act, thinking about what would become The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Smith at first was hesitant to do the audition then and there, wanting time to prepare, and Jones convinced him to do it as the opportunity was right in front of him. Smith read from a script for twenty minutes and before he left the party, there was a contract in place for him to shoot a pilot for the TV show. The party was in March 1990, the pilot episode aired in September of that year and the show became an immediate success.
Smith set out to do movies, with one of his first Six Degrees of Separation, followed shortly after by Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men in Black. He then received Academy Award nominations for Ali and The Pursuit of Happiness. Harkening back to the importance of hard work that he learned from his father, Smith saw that one of the secrets to being a global movie star is the gate outside the US, one of the secrets to that gate is promotion, so he put in more hours promoting his films than other actors did on theirs.
It's a good story, one of hard work, but also one of being in the right place at the right time, and then when the opportunity presents itself, jumping at that. It’s also interesting reading later in the book of how that singular focus on achievement made things difficult with his wife and kids. He would put the same type of expectations on them to succeed that his father had put on him, and for him to achieve, he often had to focus on himself, and not his family. Additionally, his need to control, win, and be at the center of things jeopardized the happiness of his family. He had to accept and relax.