Will Smith and Rosario Dawson
Days after the 2008 presidential election, Will said he was still riding high from President-elect Barack Obama's historic victory. On Election Day, Will gave everyone in his family video cameras to document their experiences. "It was really important to me to capture it," he says. Will's wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, started filming early—6 a.m.! "We filmed ourselves going down to the polls, my daughter went with us ... and then at night we had a party, about 60 or 70 people."
Just thinking about it gets Will choked up. "I'm getting teary again," he says. "Oprah, I'm an action hero. I can't be crying on your show!"
Will says he felt confident in the outcome. "The way that I was raised was, 'Nobody's better than you, and anything that you want, you set your mind to it and you go get it. Period,'" he says. "I believed that it was possible, but I didn't know if I really believed. The history of African-Americans is such that you want to be a part of America, but we've been rejected so much it's hard to take the ownership and take responsibility for ourselves and this country. It was like, at that second, at that moment, all of our excuses were gone."
In the suspenseful thriller, Will plays an IRS agent with a secret. He sets out to change the lives of seven total strangers, but his plan hits a bump when he falls in love with a woman he planned to help.
Will says he was drawn to the script because of its strong message about life and loss. "I've made a decision that nothing in my life is going to be without purpose. I've grown to a place where I realize the only way to really be happy is to live in service to humanity," he says. "I want my work to mean something."
In this month's Cookie magazine, Jada opens up about the couple's golden rules of parenting. "One of the central ideas that we agreed on is that our kids are not our property," Will says. "They're people, little people, who deserve the same amount of respect."
This philosophy comes in particularly handy when it's time for the kids to clean their rooms. "We say, 'Okay, here's the deal. That's not your room; that's our room that we're letting you borrow," he says. "It makes a big difference when you tell somebody to 'go clean my room I'm lending you' versus 'clean your room.'"
Will says he and Jada try to enforce the idea that everyone in the family needs to contribute to the group. "We started [asking them] from day one: 'What do you do to make this family better?'"
"They all went into a room for about 45 minutes. They talked about it, and what they realized is whatever decision they made was a decision that was going to affect all of them," he says. "If it was unreasonable, they would lose their power." When the children's council came back to Will, he says they decided that Trey only needed about $40 a week.
"That is shocking!" Oprah says.
Will says Trey started questioning the importance of material things after his grandmother died. "He was there, in the moment, when she passed," Will says. "He got a real sense of that loss and the idea of needing to create the new Trey, needing to create that new idea." So for his upcoming 16th birthday, he didn't ask for gifts. Instead, he asked his friends to donate presents to a children's hospital. "He just realized, 'Gifts? What does that really mean?'"
"You all must be doing something right," says Oprah. "For a 16-year-old to say 'I don't want gifts. Bring gifts and we'll give them to other people.'"
Acting isn't Rosario's only passion. In 2004, she co-founded a nonpartisan organization called Voto Latino. She says her goal was to mobilize Latino voters by going door-to-door in states like Colorado and registering new voters.
"I felt really strongly about telling people, especially minority people, saying your voice matters. It doesn't even matter if you vote for the person who doesn't win. It's just important that you use it," she says. "I can't tell people that their voice matters only if you check this box. So I had to just go out there and just push really hard."
In all, Rosario says Voto Latino registered more than 30,000 new voters in just four years. "It was so amazing to be a part of this election," she says.
While flying home from the Hispanic Heritage Awards with her mom and grandmother, Rosario says she opened the script and was immediately hooked. "I start, and I'm just crying immediately," she says. "I realized I'm like 50 pages in, and I don't know what's happening."
Before reading the ending, Rosario says she went back and reread the parts she loved. "I acted them out in my chair in the plane," she says. "Then, [I] read the ending. ... I'm not a public crier, per se, and I'm just sitting on this plane with people. I was a weepy mess."
Rosario wasn't the only star who shed a few tears. While screening the film for the first time, Rosario says her emotions got the best of her...and Will had the same reaction. "We walked out crying. I was, like, 'Oh, thank God,'" Rosario says. "'It's not just me.'"
On the first day of rehearsal, Rosario says Will peppered her with questions about what would make her the most comfortable and what he should wear. "[He said,] 'I don't want to be that guy with my hand on your thigh when the director says cut. I don't want to be that guy,'" she says. "Then he goes on to tell me, 'Could Jada be there?'"
Will isn't afraid to admit that he was terrified. "My worst nightmare is to have a woman that's around me feel like I disrespected her," he says.
Rosario says she spoke with Jada, who encouraged her husband to go for it. "She was like, 'Don't make me look bad. You better bring it,'" Rosario says.
"That re-entry period back into the family was the most difficult time after a film for me," he says. "I would come home, and my wife and kids are in the bed. ... It was just excruciating to think about what life would be without them."