Will Smith said he has “had to humble down” in the months since he slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars — an incident that rocked the entertainment industry and tarnished his image as an unflappable Golden Boy.
“There’s many nuances and complexities to it,” Smith said, “but at the end of the day, I just — I lost it.”
“I was going through something that night,” he admitted, though he did not specify what it was. “Not that that justifies my behavior at all.”
Smith has kept relatively quiet in the months since he climbed onstage during the 94th Academy Awards and slapped Rock after the comedian made a joke about actress Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife, that hinged on her shaved head. The actress has spoken about her struggles with alopecia, or hair loss. Smith walked up to Rock and slapped him across the face. After he sat down, he yelled: “Keep my wife’s name out your f---ing mouth.”
Smith’s violent act became the focal point of the ceremony, but that night was also a highlight of his career, as the actor took home his first Oscar — best actor — for playing Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, in “King Richard.”
Smith publicly apologized for his actions in the days following, and since then. “The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones, all those in attendance, and global audiences at home,” he said in an April statement announcing his resignation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Rock has touched on the incident in his comedy shows but has said he will fully address it when he is ready.
The Academy called Smith’s behavior “unacceptable and harmful” and banned him from attending any of its events — including the Academy Awards — for the next 10 years.
Now, Smith is back — at least, on screen. He is promoting his new film, “Emancipation,” which comes out in some theaters Friday and on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9. He stars as an enslaved person fighting to escape Louisiana after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
In Monday’s roughly 20-minute “Daily Show” interview, Smith addressed the controversy over his actions at the Oscars — and what the fallout has been like.
“It’s been a while since many people have seen you,” Noah told Smith as he sat down.
“I’ve been away,” Smith answered with a smile.
The interview got emotional at times, with Smith shedding tears as he talked about his 9-year-old nephew, who waited up to watch the ceremony that night.
As Smith tells it, after he returned from the ceremony, his nephew was sitting on his lap, holding his Oscar, when he asked, “Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?”
“That’s not who I want to be,” Smith said.
“I had to humble down and realize that I’m a flawed human,” he said, reflecting on the past few months.
During the interview, the actor touched on, but never fully spelled out, the reasons for his emotional outburst that night. “That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time,” he said.
“It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother. All of that just bubbled up in that moment,” Smith added. The actor has written in his memoir about his father’s violence and alcoholism.
The audience appeared responsive to Smith’s mea culpa, clapping and cheering often, while Noah made an impassioned case that the slap was “not who you are.” The first half of the interview was dedicated to a discussion about “Emancipation,” which Smith said he hoped audiences would still watch, even if they disapproved of his actions, because of the importance of the story it tells and because of the work the production team — particularly director Antoine Fuqua — put into it.
“I just hope that their work will be honored and their work will not be tainted based on a horrific decision on my part,” he said.
Smith made similar comments in clips of an interview with FOX 5 DC released earlier Monday. “My deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team,” Smith said. “I’m hoping that the material, the power of the film, the timeliness of the story … would open people’s hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists.”
Still, he said, if “someone is not ready [to watch the film], I would absolutely respect that.”
Sonia Rao contributed to this report.