With King Richard, director Reinaldo Marcus Green and screenwriter Zach Baylin looked to tell the story of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, and of the parents who spurred them to greatness, honing in less on the public record of the sisters’ accomplishments in the sports world and more on lesser-known aspects of their personal history.
“There are many iconic moments in their life, and I think we worked hard to try to find the moments we didn’t know,” said Baylin during Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles award-season event. “Really what happened inside the house and not just the SportsCenter highlights of their life and career.”
King Richard sees Will Smith portraying Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams’ (Demi Singleton) undeterred father, Richard, who was instrumental in helping the extraordinarily gifted athletes to fulfill their potential. Driven by a clear vision of their future and using unconventional methods, Richard has a plan that will take Venus and Serena from the streets of Compton to the global stage.
On Sunday onstage at the DGA Theater, Green reflected on his own experience coming of age as an athlete, and how that informed his understanding of the Williams sisters’ journey. “I grew up with a father kind of like Richard,” the director noted. “I knew what it was like to be out there striving for something.”
Green also noted that even if the film’s title pays tribute to Richard, the Williams owe just as much of their success to their mother Oracene, played by Aunjanue Ellis, who was “the backbone” of the family.
Later in the conversation, Baylin and Green were asked about the feedback they’ve received from the Williams family. While Baylin admitted that it was “fairly terrifying” to meet with them and pitch his take on the project in the early stages, he also said that Venus and Serena “have spoken very highly” of the film, calling it “a frighteningly accurate portrayal” of their coming-of-age story—which of course was gratifying.
Jon Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn, Dylan McDermott, Andy Bean, Kevin Dunn and Craig Tate also star in the film, produced by Tim White and Trevor White via their Star Thrower Entertainment banner, and Smith under his Westbrook banner. Serena and Venus Williams exec produced the project alongside their sister Isha Price. Its other executive producers are James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Adam Merims, Lynn Harris, Allan Mandelbaum, Jon Mone and Peter Dodd.
Warner Bros will release King Richard in U.S. theaters November 19. The drama will also be available to stream on HBO Max (via their Ad-Free Plan) for 31 days following its theatrical release.
Check out the panel video above.
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