Will Smith Just Admitted He Fell in Love With This Co-Star While Married
In his new memoir, the actor opens up about the intense experience he had filming his first major movie.
Three years into the run of his sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith proved that he wasn't just a comic actor with a performance in the 1993 drama, Six Degrees of Separation. His character was a con artist who ingratiates himself in the life of a wealthy couple by claiming to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier. The wife in the film was played by Stockard Channing, and this is where Smith learned a painful lesson as a performer. He writes in his upcoming memoir, Will, that the lines between real life and fiction blurred and he actually "fell in love" with Channing during filming. The 53-year-old star explains what happened and how it complicated his marriage in a new excerpt of the book published by People.
Smith stayed in character, even at home.
To make his performance more believable, Smith remained in character as Paul all throughout filming, even when he went home to his young family. At the time, he was newly married to Sheree Zampino and they had just welcomed their son, Trey, in November of 1992.
"Sheree and I were in the first few months of our marriage with a brand-new baby and for Sheree, I can imagine that this experience was unsettling to say the least," he writes in Will. "She'd married a guy named Will Smith and now she was living with a guy named Paul Poitier."
He began developing real romantic feelings for Channing.
"And to make matters worse, during shooting I fell in love with Stockard Channing," Smith adds in the book.
Channing, also known for her roles in The West Wing, Grease, and Practical Magic, was 48 to Smith's 24 when the film came out. And she wasn't married at the time, having divorced fourth husband David Rawle in 1988.
Nothing ever happened between the actors, however, and it's unclear whether Channing even knew about Smith's feelings when they were working together. Regardless, the experience rattled Smith, especially when he found it difficult to move on.
"After the film wrapped, Sheree and Trey and I moved back to L.A. Our marriage was off to a rocky start," Smith writes. "I found myself desperately yearning to see and speak to Stockard."
It taught him a lesson about acting.
Smith first publicly spoke about his admiration of Channing in a 2015 Esquire interview. He said it turned him off from Method acting, which is a technique that involves attempting to identify with and immerse oneself in a character—basically, to try to live as that character.
"That was my last experience with Method acting," Smith told Esquire, "where you're reprogramming your mind. You're actually playing around with your psychology. You teach yourself to like things and to dislike things. It is a really dangerous place when you get good at it. But once I had that experience, I was like, No more Method acting. I was spending—for Six Degrees, I wanted to perform well so badly that I was spending six and seven and eight days in character before shooting, and you have to be careful with that."
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His first marriage ended in 1995.
Smith writes that the places he went to in his preparation for Six Degrees of Separation were not beneficial to his marriage to Zampino. The two divorced in 1995, and the star took it hard.
"With Sheree and with Trey, that was a really difficult time," he said during a 2020 appearance on Red Table Talk, as reported by Today. "Divorce was the worst thing in my adult life, divorce was the ultimate failure for me."
Smith married his current wife (and a co-host of Red Table Talk), Jada Pinkett Smith, in 1997. The couple have two children together, Jaden and Willow, and have been open about their nontraditional relationship and marital struggles.
Channing was flattered by Smith's words.
In 2015, Page Six asked Channing about the remarks Smith had made about her to Esquire.
"Well, I'm very flattered," the actor said. "That's a wonderful thing…I adored him from the first time I laid eyes on him because I thought he was genuinely sweet. I felt very protective of him, because it was his first big job. It's amazing for me to hear that he felt that way, I'm delighted."
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