CANNES, FRANCE — To see Jada Pinkett now, you would never believe Jada Pinkett then. Now Miss Pinkett, sitting and smiling under an uncharacteristically cloudy and sunless Riviera sky, wearing a baseball cap and a wool athletic jacket for warmth, is the kind of young woman you'd like your daughter to be: She's smart and beautiful and accomplished, with a ready laugh and a confidence factor that's way off the charts.
But now is the afterglow of success at the Cannes International Film Festival, with a starring role in what will be a hot movie, two years on a popular TV show and dozens of guest-starring appearances behind her.
Then was a hood called Pimlico in the city of Baltimore, whose streets can be as mean as any walked by man.
"I was a part of the disease," she says. "When I was growing up, I had a lot of involvement in things like ["Menace II Society"] shows. I had friends killed. I feared for my own life. So making the movie was like going home, somehow, and it took me back.
"You don't think you're going to live that long. Baltimore has a way of sending you in -- making you so materialistic. You want everything right now."
But her story had a happy ending when her mother pulled her out of thecity -- she had just graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts -- and shipped her to the North Carolina School for the Arts, in 1989.
"It was my talent and my mother and a teacher named Donald Hickens who gave me my life."
She moved to California in 1991 and within three months had her first guest-starring job on television on "Mo's World." Other shows followed, including "21 Jump Street," "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill." She has just completed two years on NBC's "A Different World," and now has three movie offers to contend with.
The role came to her after "the guys," as she calls the movie's two directors, Albert and Allen Hughes, saw her at the premiere of Eddie Murphy's film "Boomerang."
"They asked me to read for it but didn't think I was right for it. Then I read and they wanted me and that was that." She recalls making the film as "an emotional roller coaster. There were so many issues to deal with at once. It was very tense: The riots had just broken out."
She understands that the movie will be controversial, with its unflinching portraits of the mechanism of black-on-black violence, especially when many in the African-American community are saying that there's so much more to black life than crack and guns in the hood.
"In some other movies like this, you only see the surface. But the Hughes brothers show you what's under the surface and give you the whole system of belief that's making the hearts of young black males disappear. But I guarantee you, anybody who goes to see this movie isn't going to feel like killing anyone afterward. That's why it's so important.
"What the movie is saying is, 'There are alternatives. You have to search for them and figure them out. You have to step correctly and be responsible.' "
She says her mother, a nurse who lives in Columbia, now wants to move to Los Angeles. "I say, Mom, you stay in the suburbs."