• Golden Globe Awards

Winners Circle 2022: Nominee Profile 2022: Will Smith, “King Richard”

Action star. Rapper. Producer. And now, writer. Will Smith is the man known for massive blockbusters. The term ‘Big Willie Weekend’ was created because of his big 4th of July openings. But, behind the star who dominated big box-office weekends as the hero of the Men in Black- and Bad Boys- series as well as the Independence Day films, was always a character actor desperate to find good material and prove himself. That’s what he did 28 years ago in Six Degrees of Separation, and later in Ali, The Pursuit of Happiness, and, then again, in 2016 in Concussion. The latter three earned him Golden Globe nominations.
His newest film King Richard offered him another great character role. As the father of Venus and Serena Williams, he plays the man behind their tennis fame. It was time for that part in his career, the actor said. And not just because he can afford to mix it up. Smith, who comes across as strong and confident, quietly doubts himself with every role: “Most of the process is doubt. I talked to Benicio del Toro about this and we both agreed that doubt only goes away the last week of playing a character. Maybe. In that final week, you feel like ‘I got it!’ Now I’m ready to go back to the beginning and starting the whole four months process of shooting the movie over again.’ It really isn’t until you’ve lived it for an extended period until you come to that full embodiment. “In that vein, he said, it is always an enormous help to have the people he plays readily available. It helped with Muhammed Ali. It helped with Dr. Omalu, in his work for Concussion. And it certainly helped with Richard Williams.
Born in Philadelphia, the now 53-year-old Willard Carroll Smith Jr. broke into the entertainment business as his alter ego and rap name The Fresh Prince. It was in that incarnation that he met music executive Benny Medina, who asked him if he could act. Smith said: “If somebody asks me Can I do something? I always say yes. I’ll figure this shit out later.” When Medina shared the idea for a TV show based on his own life – in a rags-to-riches story from Watts to Beverly Hills – Smith thought it was all just typical Hollywood talk. But, a few weeks later, he got a call from none other than four-time Golden Globe nominee Quincy Jones, who invited him to his birthday party: “I’m driving up to Quincy’s house. It was, like, 40 valet parkers. It looked like the British were coming. He said, ‘Benny wants to set the show in Beverly Hills, but this is Bel Air, and Bel Air makes Beverly Hills look like public housing.’ Then, he said: ‘Move the couches out of the living room. We’re going to have an audition. Get Will the script we’ve been working on.’ He screams out at a white dude to come over. It was Brandon Tartikoff, then president of NBC.” Smith prepared for 10 minutes, did the audition in Jones’ living room and got the deal right there: “Quincy spins around and points at another dude, Brandon’s lawyer. ‘I need a deal memo. Right now.’ I was, like, Quincy is the man. He orders other people’s lawyers around.” The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air turned Smith into a TV star. Movie-stardom followed not far behind.
Last November he released his autobiography titled, simply, “Will”. It is one of the most open and honest books a famous person could ever write. He chronicles his rise to fame, but he also writes about his difficult childhood with an abusive father: “There are things about my life I never revealed, things I never said out loud. My father died in 2016, and I was somehow freed to be able to tell the truth about my life and to be able to tell the truth about my childhood because I never would have been able to say the things I say in that book if my father were still alive.”
Smith is deeply introspective, as this excerpt shows: “We punish ourselves for not knowing. We always complain about what we could or should have done. And how much of a mistake it was that we did that thing, that unforgivable thing. We beat ourselves up for being so stupid and regretting our choices and lamenting the horrible decisions we made. But here’s the reality. That’s what life is. Life is a journey from not knowing to know. From confusion to clarity. From not understanding to understanding. […] Life is like a school with one major difference. In school, you get the lesson and then you get the test. In life, you get the test and then you have to extract the lesson.
King Richard is Will Smith’s sixth Golden Globe nomination.