November 7, 2008

Pinkett Smith is a Happy, Happy Hippo


By Donna Freydkin

NEW YORK -- If Jada Pinkett Smith could be reincarnated as an animal, she'd go the feline route.

"I'd probably be a black panther, because they're very mysterious and absolutely the most breathtaking animals I've ever seen. I saw two in Africa. We were in a wild park, and they were in their natural habitat," she says. "It was just lying there, saying: 'Don't come too close. If you get out of the car, I've got something for all that.'"

The Los Angeles home she shares with her husband, Will Smith, and their children, Jaden, 10, and Willow, 8, is filled with creatures great and small. "We've got two dogs, three cats and a snake. Willow has a boa constrictor. She loves snakes."

Pinkett Smith got to indulge her wild side while voicing lovable hippo Gloria in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. In the sequel to the 2005 animated hit, opening today, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Pinkett Smith and Chris Rock play four-legged creatures who have left their Central Park Zoo cages for the wilds of Africa.

"I've always wanted more body, so it was really fantastic that I got the opportunity to play such a gloriously hefty lady," Pinkett Smith, 37, says during a visit to the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of African Mammals. "It's always fun to crawl back into Gloria's skin. It's really rare that you get to play a character twice."

It's even rarer that you get to do it with your daughter. Willow is an actress and voiced baby Gloria in the movie's opening scenes. Pinkett Smith calls the experience "fantastic. She'd been so interested in the process, and it was great that she could learn the process by participating. It took her a minute to get used to the microphone and the fact that there wouldn't be any other actors."

Both of her children are actors: Willow appeared in this year's Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, and Jaden stars in the upcoming The Day the Earth Stood Still. Pinkett Smith isn't worried about the children entering the family business. "If that's what they want to do, who knows? Whatever they want, as long as they're happy. That's what matters."

Pinkett Smith, who just wrapped her directorial debut, The Human Contract, will happily share the screen with the kids but has no plans to direct them. "Not anytime soon. I'm Mommy. That's all I need to be to them."

In Madagascar, giraffe Melman (Schwimmer) has the hots for Pinkett Smith's Gloria. It's an odd pairing, to be sure, but Pinkett Smith knows a little about love. The key to her decade-long marriage to her famous spouse?

"I don't think there's a secret. Communication and friendship and being in sync with your priorities. Love and family are first," she says. "No relationship is easy, but when everyone has the same priorities, anything can be worked out.

"We spend a lot of time together. We come home, and our date is spending time together at home. The kids go to bed, and it's just us. We live a really normal life."

(c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


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