Jada Pinkett Smith is many things: actress, producer, red-carpet goddess and even the high-decibel lead singer of her own alt-metal band Wicked Wisdom. But first and foremost Pinkett Smith, 35, will tell you she’s a mom.
Granted, not your typical mom. As the wife of Will Smith, Pinkett Smith counts Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes as close pals, lives in a 27,000-sq.-ft. mansion on 100 acres in Malibu and takes vacations with Nelson Mandela. But as the mother of Jaden, 9, and Willow, 6, and stepmom to 14-year-old Trey (Will’s son from his three-year marriage to Sheree Zampino, which ended in 1995), Jada loves indulging her inner Betty Crocker. “I bake, but I don’t cook,” she says with a laugh. “If you ask me to baste a turkey, there are problems. If you want me to bake a red velvet cake, it’s on and crackin’!” And though she’s a regular at L.A. premieres, she insists on being home every night for the Smith Family Tuck-In: “My kids [fall] asleep with us, then we put them in their beds once they’re asleep.”
Bedtime provides a rare moment of peace for the Type A actress, who has spent much of the past year cheering on her husband, who nabbed an Oscar nomination for The Pursuit of Happyness. Now she’s in the spotlight: In the post-9/11 drama Reign Over Me, the actress plays a protective wife struggling to accept her husband’s (Don Cheadle) friendship with a mentally troubled old pal (Adam Sandler). It was Pinkett Smith’s fiercely maternal qualities that attracted director Mike Binder. “The first call was to Jada,” says Binder. “She’s a wife and a mother—I wanted that real mix.”
The 5-ft.-tall dynamo credits her parenting qualities—and her drive—to her own mother, Adrienne Banfield-Jones, a nurse and single mom who raised her family in inner-city Baltimore. “She understood what I wanted,” says Pinkett Smith, “and never stood in my way.” After attending the city’s School for the Arts (rapper Tupac Shakur was one of her closest friends), she landed roles on TV’s A Different World and the L.A. drug drama Menace II Society. She met Smith in 1995 at an audition for his sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She lost the part—producers said she was too short for the 6’2″ Smith—but landed the guy (they wed in 1997). She went on to star in films like The Matrix Reloaded and Collateral while raising her brood and producing the CW hit All of Us, loosely based on her own blended family. In 2003 the die-hard metalhead teamed with musicians Pocket Honore, Rio, Thomas Pridgen and Cameron “Wirm” Graves to form Wisdom because she had “always wanted to see a chick rock out like Axl Rose.”
But Pinkett Smith is proudest of her nine-year marriage, held together by “respectful communication—we study with one another to see the core of the issue, uproot it, dissect it and handle it.” Adds Will, 38: “There is no such thing as a real disagreement—only misunderstandings. Very rarely do we argue, because we believe we can get to the bottom of [any misunderstanding].” Both enjoy seeing the kids join the family business: Jaden costarred with Smith in Happyness, and Willow will act with him in the sci-fi movie I Am Legend, due later this year. And with Trey playing high school football, Pinkett Smith—a fixture at all her kids’ sports games—relishes another role: “I’m a bleacher mom!”
Not that she’ll be on the bench for long: Pinkett Smith has another job lined up, reprising her voice role in the animated Madagascar 2. The woman who rocked Carolina Herrera at the Oscars and rocks out to the point of splitting her leather pants onstage—”She is fearless!” says bandmate Honore—isn’t even breaking a sweat. “It’s all the same mommy, all the same wife,” she says. “All the same Jada.”