Last updated: Sep 10, 2014
Marc Baptiste
Given that Jada Pinkett Smith is Hollywood royalty—and given the intense scrutiny she and her family are under—you would think she'd be reserved. But within a few minutes of meeting, we're deep in an intense, candid conversation, during which she cries—twice—and later laughs so loudly that our fellow diners turn around, startled. This is a woman who is definitely not afraid to be herself.

Jada, who just turned 43, recently moved from Los Angeles to New York City with her family—husband Will Smith, son Jaden, 16, daughter Willow, 13, and Will's son Trey, 21—after landing a juicy part on Gotham, Fox's addictively sinister Batman prequel series. She is clearly having the time of her life playing Fish Mooney, a sadistic gangster boss with an extremely short fuse.

The petite star and I are at a sidewalk café across the street from her new apartment downtown. Jada is dressed in a flowing red tunic and little black shorts that show off her enviably toned legs. She has already had a busy morning settling into the apartment. "I was putting towels in the wash, I was vacuuming." (Wait, Jada vacuums? "Oh, Jada vacuums," she says, mock-solemnly.) Over a long afternoon, the Baltimore native talks about her family, her high-energy life and how she maintains her incredible skin. And arms. Also, legs.

Tell me about Fish Mooney, which seems like the role of a lifetime—and an original character you helped shape.

I had a lot of fun with her. Because she was a blank canvas, I dived right in and did some of the most bizarre things. One morning I came to the producers, and I had a guy on a chain walking on his hands and knees with the word liar across his face in red lipstick. I said, "This is what Fish Mooney does when she's betrayed by one of her henchmen." I was hard-core! Some things worked and some things didn't.

Marc Baptiste
What didn't?

I went in for the table read and did this over-the-top Mid-Atlantic accent, like Joan Crawford. And Peter Roth from Warner Bros. called me that afternoon and said, "Jada, I don't know how to tell you this, I love you to death, but..." [Laughs uproariously]

Let's talk about that picture of you on Facebook in a bikini, which sent the entire nation running to the gym.

Willow took that photo. She said, "Mommy, you look so beautiful in this picture." I couldn't really see it, but I was so charmed that that's how she sees her mother. I'm getting teary thinking about it now. [Tears spill down her cheeks.] Because when your kids get to be teenagers, they can get a little rough on you, you know what I mean?

What's your secret to having such a good attitude about getting older, especially given the youth-worshipping business you're in?

Because it is what it is! I'm getting older! I've never looked at myself as, like, a beauty. I'm not sore on the eye, but I know there's always going to be somebody more beautiful—always. My grandmother used to say to me, "It's not about what you look like on the outside. It's what you look like on the inside." So she helped me learn at an early age to be well-rounded, to be spiritual, to be compassionate.

And my mom said, "You can do whatever you want with your hair and your clothes." I went to art school, and I could make my hair lime green if I wanted. So there was a certain internal power that grew within me because I didn't have a problem being who I was, no matter what room I was in.

Marc Baptiste
You're in great shape. What's your fitness regimen?

It's funny—my cardio workout varies. If I have a heavy carb week, I've got a heavy cardio week. I tell people all the time, "You can eat whatever you want, as long as you're willing to put the work in," and that's a thing I had to learn. So I make sure I do something physical every single day. But that doesn't mean you have to go to the gym and freakin' kill yourself! I do 20 minutes of cardio a day. Everybody's thinking you gotta be in the gym for an hour and a half. Literally, I'm never in the gym longer than 45 minutes. Just be consistent—that's it! It doesn't necessarily have to be intense, and you will see a difference. Just go out of your house and do a brisk walk! Every night, my mother and I take the dog and just walk, and that's a ritual for us.

You go golfing with your husband, too, right? Are you both at the same level?

Oh no, no, no. Will is a much better golfer than me. Although I can really wield my... not my irons. [Puts face in hands] I just totally went blank! The biggest club in the bag! Will's going to be like, "You went blank talking about what?"

Please, it happens to us all. Aside from hiking, how do you keep your legs so toned?

Oh man, I do yoga. I also do a sled machine, which track runners use for training—you put a harness on and pull things.

How about your arms?

I do push-ups and some light weights because I'm definitely trying to go for a softer look with my upper body.

You are active with the family, too.

We're a sporty crew. We like to do stand-up paddling, a lot of surfing. Jaden is probably the most active because he's gotten into cycling, like, eight miles a day. And he now eats like a madman, which I'm very happy about. He had gotten into juicing and just wanted to juice all day, didn't want to have substance in his stomach. Well, let him get weak for a little while and he figures out, "Oh my God, I'm about to pass out."

So you allowed Jaden to come to that conclusion on his own?

I think we have to have more trust in our children. People have always gotten on us about not punishing the kids, and let me just talk to you about that for a minute. We raised three kids before Willow and Jaden, and especially on my goddaughter, I put so many boundaries on her—"No, you can't do that, you can't do this." And everything I tried to control, every freakin' thing I was trying to avoid, happened.

I learned a lot from that experience and realized that while Willow and Jaden are still with me and have a safety net, I want to give them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn how to put boundaries on themselves. So by the time they're out of the house, they fly.

What foods do you focus on to stay healthy? You're big on lean protein and fresh vegetables, right?

And carbs! My husband's trainer started giving me diet tips, and he dismissed the myth that more carbs means you're going to be unhealthy. What I realized is that I wasn't eating enough of the proper foods like pasta and rice. I needed more of a high-carb situation in order to facilitate the amount of calories I burn. That meant more fruits, meant a lot of vegetables because those are carbs as well and, if I want, some pasta or toast or English muffins.

What's your absolute favorite healthy snack?

We keep hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator because I need to be able to pop protein whenever I want. And I love Quest Bars, the most delicious protein bars you will ever have. They make you feel like you are so misbehaving. Will's favorite kind is the chocolate brownie, and for me, the chocolate chip cookie dough is the best because I would eat cookie dough every day if I could.

What do you do to maintain your amazing skin?

Nothing supremely special. I get a facial maybe twice a year, and I drink a lot of water. [She spies Willow across the street, coming back from Whole Foods with a family friend, and waves.] Willow got into alkaline water, and Jaden's like, "Mommy, you can only drink distilled water." And I'm like, "Listen, I can't keep up with you all, I just can't. I'm cool with the tap water."

You've been doing a documentary project for CNN about human trafficking in the U.S. You must take that home with you a lot.

Yeah. [Starts crying] You know, when bad things happen to me, and all this stupid crazy stuff people want to say about us, I just think back to all these resilient young girls I have met who have not just survived this but are thriving. This kind of work will be in my life forever.

On Facebook, you urge females to "woman up" and be more supportive.

We're all connected to each other. When women live closely together, their menstrual cycles sync up. And that's something special that women ignore every f-ing day because we're taught to compete with one another, to be afraid of one another.

Have you gotten that female support in Hollywood?

Angelina Jolie and I, we're not friends, but when I called her about my human trafficking endeavors, she went all in. And I really appreciated that because there are not a lot of times that you can call upon people in our business and get serious help. She put me in contact with the people I needed to be in contact with, she sent me books, sent me all the information she had. I'm not saying that Angelina and I are, like, girlfriends and kicking it every day, but when you call another woman who's in a position to lend support to you and she just jumps right in there—that's sisterhood.

Backyard dates and more stuff Jada can't resist

Last book she loved

One of my all-time favorite books that I'm constantly reading and keep with me like a bible is Women Who Run with the Wolves.

Date night with Will

A lot of times, we'll do it at the house because when we go out it can be a little hectic. So we have different places around our yard where we like to set up a little Arabian tent, pillows, wine and cheese, candlelight. Will likes really thought-out productions.

Guilty-pleasure TV show

My guilty, guilty, guilty is RuPaul's Drag Race! It's the only reality show I watch, and I do not miss an episode.

Beauty-counter splurge

Definitely lip gloss. And I'm really into Tom Ford fragrances—Noir, Tuscan Leather. I can't stop. I'm like, "Do not take me anywhere near Tom Ford fragrances, please, because I'll be broke."

Scary movie

Paranormal Activity. I watched it with the kids, and it scared the crap out of me. Horror movies used to be my thing. When I was coming up, they would have Friday the 13th marathons that would start at midnight in our neighborhood theater, and we'd watch them all night. But as I've gotten older, I've gotten a little soft!