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WILL SMITH

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Call it Hyphen Syndrome, the affliction of overzealous performers trying to prove they’re no one-trick pony. A few notable casualties: swimsuit model- turned- TV host Christie Brinkley; TV cop-turned-crooner Don Johnson; sitcom legend-turned-game-show host Bill Cosby. But let us now praise one worthy exception: rapper-turned-TV star-turned-movie actor Will Smith. Back in 1990, Smith was the Fresh Prince, a soft-core rap star who had already made-and spent-his first million. Relying on his boyish, hyperactive charm, he hit the entertainment jackpot again that year with his NBC sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel- Air, which was the No. 14 show last season and No. 1 among black viewers. And now he’s showing that his comic touch is no bluff. He scores in Made in America, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson, as Tea Cake Walters, the smart-aleck friend of Nia Long, who plays Goldberg’s daughter . Smith’s part is yet another variation on his hip-hop-flavored, hopelessly hapless but lovable persona-which is not all an act. ”There’s a time for work and a time for play, and I have a hard time figuring out which is which,” says Smith, 24. ”On the set Whoopi gave me little signals. The nostril flare meant it was time to start working.” The true test of Smith’s acting talent will come later this year. In the film version of John Guare’s critically acclaimed and Obie Award- winning play Six Degrees of Separation, he’ll star as a gay con artist who convinces a wealthy Manhattan couple that he’s the son of Sidney Poitier. Now that’s a gamble. ”It scares me a lot,” says Smith, who prepared for the movie for two months with a dialogue coach. He says he has been affectionately ribbed about playing a homosexual, and he did flinch once: He would not go through with a scripted kiss with actor Eric Thal. ”How people receive me in this film will be my gauge for whether or not I can do drama,” he says. ”If I can pull this off, then my mind will be in a whole different place. If I get comfortable, I get lazy.” That’s the last adjective that might describe him. Smith made both his films while on hiatus from TV; his third album, Booooom, is due by the end of July; and he and his wife, Sheree, 24, are busy with their son, Willard Smith III, who was born in November. ”As long as I can do everything,” says Smith, ”I will. (Fresh Prince executive producer) Quincy Jones said to me one time, ‘You don’t need to relax. You’ll have all the time in the world to relax when you’re dead.”’

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