‘Worst two hours of my life’: Will Smith on seeking approval from Venus and Serena Williams for ‘King Richard’

Smith portrays the tennis stars' father in the new biopic

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King Richard, the new biopic focused on the titular Williams patriarch and his role in the ascendancy of his daughters Venus and Serena Williams to tennis legends, has received nearly across-the-board positive reviews and is generating Oscar buzz for star and producer Will Smith.

But before the public ever got a chance to embrace the film, Smith needed the blessing of the two people who arguably mattered the most: the real-life Williams sisters. Venus and Serena were only willing to come on board as executive producers and to offer creative guidance for King Richard if they enjoyed the film.

Even for a Hollywood icon, waiting for their imprimatur was not easy.

Venus Serena Williams thegrio.com
(L-R) Serena Williams and Venus Williams attend the premiere of Warner Bros. “King Richard” on Nov. 14, 2021 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

“They said they would see us through the process and exec produce, but they wanted to see the movie before they decided if they would put their names to it,” Smith said on The Graham Norton Show. “It was the worst two hours of my life, but they were a mess with tears, and they loved it.”

Smith said he had a similar experience two decades ago with 2001’s Ali, in which he portrayed legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. He sat next to Ali himself as the boxer watched it for the first time.

King Richard thegrio.com
Saniyya Sidney, Will Smith and Demi Singleton attend the UK premiere of “King Richard” on Nov. 17, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Warner Bros.)

“I had made the mistake of watching Ali for the first time while sitting behind Muhammad Ali and mid-way through the movie, he turned to his wife and said, ‘Was I that crazy?'” he said.

Smith said on the Jimmy Fallon Show that there’s a heightened professional challenge in portraying still-living people on screen, as he did with Williams and Ali, as well as Chris Gardner in 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness and Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2015’s Concussion.

“You spend so much time creating these things and there’s literally only one audience,” Smith said on Fallon. “It’s the only audience and you just hope to God that you’ve spent a year to tell this story and hope that they like it.”

King Richard is part of a Will Smith renaissance of sorts that includes an appearance with the Williams family on wife Jada Pinkett Smith‘s “Red Table Talk” series and the Nov. 9 release of his memoir, “Will,” which has made headlines for candid admissions including Smith’s father’s abusive behavior and his getting sick from “too much sex.”

King Richard is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.  

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