Will Smith scored his third and fourth Oscar nominations this morning as the star and producer of King Richard, doubling his Oscar nominations haul and becoming only the ninth producer-actor to nab both nominations for the same film. “It’s six nominations total,” Smith tells Deadline, “and this is rarefied air for me. I’ve been nominated two other times, but it’s never been this kind of blanket love, you know?”
In addition to his Best Actor nod, and the Best Picture nomination he shares with Tim White and Trevor White, the film has been recognized for Zach Baylin’s Original Screenplay, DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s Original Song and Pamela Martin’s Editing. Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Oracene Price opposite Smith’s Richard Williams, was recognized in Supporting Actress.
It means so much to him, Smith says, because there wasn’t a part of the process he didn’t relish. “The story, the Williams family, working with Aunjanue Ellis and the time we spent together, learning her story and her struggles. The fact that it’s Richard, and Venus and Serena, and the timing of it. It was one of those things where everything went perfectly together. So, to be a part of this story and to feel the way the world is responding, it is artistic nirvana.”
Smith says that what attracted him to the story was that it told a familiar narrative—that of the triumph of Venus and Serena Williams in their quest to become two of the greatest tennis players of all time—from a perspective that hadn’t been heard before. “There are so many intricacies to this story,” he says. “One of the first things was the idea of feeling like you know the story, but then realizing, ‘Oh wait, it’s the opposite of what I thought.’ That idea of Richard Williams as a brash, overbearing father who pushed his children to success.
“One of the first things we realized was what Venus called his ‘Jedi mind trick’. He tricked them into pushing him to have them play tennis. At every turn, he would say, ‘No, you can’t play tennis if you don’t go to Kingdom Hall,’ or, ‘Nope, you can’t play tennis if you don’t do your schoolwork.’ He was pushing against it as much as he was pushing for it.”
Meeting Venus and Serena Williams and their sister Isha Price—all of whom are executive producers on the film—as well as Richard Williams himself cemented in his mind the idea that Richard Williams’ narrative had been poorly told in the press. “It was a love like nothing you can imagine,” Smith said he found. “He protected and loved his daughters above all else; tennis was third or fourth on the list of priorities. It was love, family, faith. These weren’t things he paid lip service to, they were his deep, firm beliefs, even to the point of pulling them out of Juniors [competitions] when people would tell him that was career suicide. It was a beautiful revelation.”
As Smith looks ahead to the Oscars on March 27, he says he’s “ecstatic” with the upcoming Peacock show Bel-Air, a dramatic retelling of Smith’s 90s sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which premieres on February 13. “If you notice, I’ve never put my name on something in this way as an executive producer,” Smith says. “We’re stepping out with this beloved title and I’m ecstatic with what has been created.
“The pilot for Bel-Air is all the nostalgia you’re going to want, but there are parts where you’re going to stand up and cheer and hold your mouth. It’s such a perfect balance and a reimagining of this world. It’s going to be like, duh, yes, of course there’s a dramatic version of this story. Of course that would be brilliant. It’s like you’re in a new place and at home at the same time, and that’s such a difficult thing to pull off for [creator] Morgan Cooper and the team. I can’t wait for people to see it.”
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