Will Smith finally feels like he can be himself.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in the world with no agenda,” Smith told Google’s Adam Stewart during Advertising Week New York on Wednesday (Oct. 3). “I’m not selling anything. I’m having fun.”
Since breaking into entertainment in 1986 with his first hit single, “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble,” Smith has meticulously crafted his public persona—the rapper, the Fresh Prince, the actor, the action star. He was known for studying the highest-grossing and best-performing movies to look for patterns that he could apply to his own film choices. But there were sides of himself he found he couldn’t express in a song, a TV show, or a two-hour movie.
“For so many years I had so many things I wanted to say, so many ideas in my mind,” Smith told Stewart. “But when you put out one movie a year you sort of get backed up… I’ve been having creative fruit dying on my inner vine,” he joked.
Last December, Smith joined YouTube and has since used the platform to flex his creative muscles. He went scuba and skydiving for the first time. He did an unboxing video, and got back in the recording booth. He danced atop a bridge in Budapest for the viral challenge to Drake’s “In My Feelings” song. In all, he has more than 40 videos on YouTube.
“I’m at home,” Smith said. ”I get so excited to being able to take 30 years of music, TV, and film experience and concentrate it on a two-minute clip.”
Smith even celebrated his 50th birthday by bungee jumping out of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon while his family and friends—including TV cousin Alfonso Ribeiro—watched from the ground. The entire experience was captured on YouTube. He said it was about “attacking fear.”
“You have to confront the part of yourself that thinks you’re gonna die,” said Smith. “[Fear] keeps you from exploring and experiencing, and the problem is because it’s inside your head. It even constricts your thinking. … I think a constant and daily confrontation with fear and with your edges is hugely important to maintain creativity.”
Smith deftly drops life advice like that in his YouTube videos, too. They’re meant to be fun and spark joy, but also give people tools to grow and better themselves.
In his movies, Smith has boxed in the ring, battled aliens and Darkseekers, and routinely saved the world, but he says social media brought him out of his comfort zone. Two years ago, the megastar discovered meditation and says he was finding the most pleasure in the moments when he was alone in his room, silent and still. Social media gave him a reason to get out in the real world again, to shoot videos and meet new people as part of his research.
Unsurprisingly, due to the combination of Smith’s immense stardom and humble world views, his YouTube account has amassed more than 3.6 million subscribers and nearly 120 million views in the roughly 10 months since it launched. Smith also has more than 22 million followers on Instagram, which he joined around the same time last year.
“It’s helping me find my voice,” Smith said, of social media. “I feel like I’m getting a fourth bite at the entertainment apple.”