Oscars producer Will Packer has spoken out about the behind the scenes tension at Sunday’s Academy Awards after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage.
Packer sat down with Good Morning America’s T.J. Holmes to discuss the awards. In the interview that aired Friday morning, Packer said he felt “devastated” by what happened, and confirmed the joke Rock told about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was unscripted.
“I knew he had an amazing lineup of jokes … we had them in the prompter and ultimately he did not get to one of the planned jokes,” Packer said. “He was just immediately freestyling.”
Rock made the joke about Pinkett Smith while presenting the best documentary award and suggested she would star in a sequel to “G.I. Jane” due to her bald head. Pinkett Smith has been open about having alopecia, which causes hair loss.
Like most people watching the ceremony at home, Packer said he thought the confrontation between Smith and Rock was a pre-planned bit until Smith started yelling: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth!”
“Once I saw Will yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped. And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh no, oh no. Not like this,’” Packer explained. “Chris was keeping his head when everyone else was losing theirs. My heart was just in my stomach because of everything about it and what it represented and what it looked like and who was involved. All of that. I’ve never felt so immediately devastated like I did in that moment.”
The first time Oscars producer added that Los Angeles police officers were at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday and “prepared” to arrest Smith, but Rock refused to press charges.
“They were saying this is battery was the word they use in that moment,” Packer recalled. “They said we will go get him, we are prepared. We’re prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him. They were laying out the options, and as they were talking, Chris was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, ‘No, I’m fine.’ He was like, ‘No, no, no.’”
Packer said he did not speak with Smith on the night of the awards. He also addressed Smith getting a standing ovation from the audience inside the venue after smacking Rock.
“It doesn’t make anything he did right and it doesn’t excuse that behavior at all, but I think the people in that room who stood up, stood up for somebody who they knew, who was a peer, who was a friend, who was a brother,” he explained.
Packer said he was hoping Smith would apologize to Rock in his acceptance speech, but that didn’t happen.
“It couldn’t be made right in that moment because of what had happened, but I think we were hoping that he’d make it better, that he’d stand on that stage and say what just happened minutes ago was absolutely and completely wrong. ‘Chris Rock, I’m so sorry, please forgive me.’ That’s what I was hoping for,” he explained.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, has faced criticism for its handling of the incident.
On Wednesday, the organization’s board of governors began disciplinary hearings on Smith and a possible suspension, expulsion or other sanctions based on the group’s code of conduct. During the board’s next meeting on April 18, it will decide what action, if any, to take against Smith.
The Academy released a statement Wednesday saying Smith was asked to leave the ceremony after slapping Rock for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, but the King Richard star “refused” to go.
Although some industry insiders who attended the ceremony have disputed the Academy’s version of events on social media.
Smith apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees during his acceptance speech on Sunday, and publicly issued an apology to Rock in a lengthy statement Monday on Instagram, saying: “I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
Watch more of Good Morning America‘s interview with Will Packer below.