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Will Smith opens up about the opportunity to tell the emotional story of Richard Williams in "King Richard"
The five-time Golden Globe nominee sat down with fellow cast members and Serena and Venus Williams at the global press conference on Sunday.
Published Nov 08, 2021
"You've got to understand that you're dealing with an image of a 14-year-old child. And this child gonna be out there playing when your old a** and me gonna be in the grave."
This gloriously iconic statement from Richard Williams in 1995 to an interviewer who was determined to break 14-year-old Venus Williams' confidence during an interview has received over a million views around the internet and for good reason. It shows a dad protecting his Black daughter at all costs who was entering an extremely historically white professional sport. It's a moment that has burned in five-time Golden Globe nominee Will Smith's heart for over 20 years and the reason he jumped at the opportunity to play Richard in "King Richard."
"The look of Venus' face...that image burned in my heart because that's how I wanted my daughter to look when I showed up," Will Smith told press during the global press conference for the film on the Warner Bros. Studios lot. "That interview really changed my parenting at that time. It was like the look on Venus' face...it was like she had a lion and she was so confident and so comfortable that her lion wasn't going to let anything happen to her.
"I fell in love with Richard Williams—that was 20 something years ago and when the opportunity to be a part of this came up that was the first thing that I remembered. I knew I wanted to show a father protecting a daughter like that to the world."
There's a thousand different ways the story of Serena and Venus could be told. Venus' seven singles Grand Slam titles and Serena's 23 certainly make for the perfect action-packed highlight reel, but that's the last thing this film is about. "King Richard" is not about re-living the on-court triumphs of the most iconic sister act but rather its about love, sacrifice and what happens when a family dares to dream together.
The Williams family is anything but typical and the film gives a very personal inside account into the Williams' parenting style. It's another reason why Smith felt so inclined to take on the role because he was eager to explore the mindset of Richard and learn.
"That was a new parenting idea for me of alining with your children verses directing your children. It was a very very different concept and approach that was magical in the Williams' family. The rules were set but the rules that were established were divine rules. Faith was at the center and it was a collective journey we were going on. It wasn't that as a parent I know and you don't, so you're going to do what I say because I'm right and you're little.
"It was a very different approach that was somewhat eye opening for me."
Smith who comes from a military family had a very different experience growing up, he never got a vote and had to do what was laid out for him with no questions asked. Smith admitted he learned an overwhelming amount when it comes to parenting by stepping into Richard's shoes and it was a refreshing experience.
The movie keeps this topic of parenting and the overall journey of the Williams' family in the forefront by focusing on the small moments. It's not about the on-court wins but rather on how that winning became possible through the everyday struggles and situations the family endured. The beautifully crafted screenplay for this biopic never gets lost in the big moments similar to what fans would see on a SportsCenter package. It's not calcified and writer Zach Baylin really brought to life the most intimate family moments by digging deep and doing his research alongside producers Trevor and Tim White.
"I wrote the first draft of the script and I thought it was pretty good, but then once we started sitting down with Isha (Price), Venus and Oracene (Price) and getting everyone's take," Baylin says. "What was it like in that bedroom? What was it like at the dinner table and in the van with Richard?
"I think that's what really hopefully brought it to life. So it wasn't just a chronicling of the greatest hits of this incredible family, but it was hopefully an inside look at what it was like at every moment."
Every detail big and small was accounted for in King Richard and it's what brings such a resounding authenticity to the screen. Actors Saniyya Sidney (as Venus) and Demi Singleton (as Serena) had the daunting task of not only having to learn the game, but play it like a Grand Slam champion. Not to mention, Sidney learned it all with her off hand, a feat that all on its own deserves applause.
This extreme push from the actors and crew to give it all they had and the determination to work through scenes over and over until it was done with 100 percent raw truth was something Smith is blessed to have been a part of.
"I love being able to be a part of creating in that way, and that push and tenacity for the authenticity," Smith said. "And I want to say to the three of you (speaking to Serena, Venus and Richard), everybody in this group is amazed and in awe of your family. It was a beautiful honor and absolute pleasure to bring this depiction to the world.
"So thank you for your suffering, thank you for your hard work and thank you for your inspiration to the world. We appreciate you."
As for Serena, she sat in disbelief beside Smith and is still shocked to see her family's story being told on film.
"No word describes it better than surreal," Serena said. "Just to see these incredible actresses and everyone behind it just putting this all together and about our dad's journey but because of myself and my sister it really is like 'wow really? Are we really something, you know?'"
"It really is super surreal for me and then to have Will play this role as my father and the way that he embodied Richard Williams—it just took the whole film to a whole new level. It's so emotional, it's well done and it's a brilliant piece of work."
King Richard hits theaters and HBO Max on November 19.