Eight months after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, the King Richard star sat down for his first late-night interview since the Academy Awards, and discussed that “horrific night.”
Smith made an appearance on The Daily Show on Monday (Nov. 28) to promote his new film Emancipation, and told host Trevor Noah he “just lost it” at the Oscars.
“That was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” Smith said. “There’s many nuances and complexities to it, but at the end of the day, I just – I lost it. I guess what I would say, you just never know what somebody’s going through.”
The Oscars slap saga began on March 27, when Chris Rock told a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The comedian ventured off topic as he presented the best documentary award, and suggested Pinkett Smith — who has alopecia — would star in a sequel to “G.I. Jane” due to her shaved head. Smith walked on stage and slapped Rock, then went back to his seat. A short time later, Smith picked up the best actor Oscar for his performance in tennis drama King Richard.
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The actor later apologized to the film Academy and to Rock. Amid the fallout from the slap, he was banned from the Oscars ceremony for 10 years.
Smith told Noah he was filled with rage that night.
“I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behavior at all,” he said. “I was gone, dude. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time. And I understand the pain.”
Smith added that life is difficult.
“We just gotta be nice to each other. It’s hard, and I guess the thing that was most painful for me is I took my hard and made it hard for other people,” he said. “I understood the idea when they say, ‘Hurt people hurt people.'”
Noah told Smith the slap seemed to come from deeper issues, and Smith agreed.
“It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother. It’s all of that just bubbled up in that moment. It’s just – that’s not who I want to be,” Smith said.
Noah told him, “Everybody can make a mistake.” Smith got emotional and his eyes filled with tears.
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Before sitting down with Noah, Smith spoke with Fox 5 in Washington, DC, and said he understands if people aren’t “ready” to forgive him, but insisted he doesn’t want his actions to hurt the team that made his new film.
“The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers, and my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team,” he said.
The film is inspired by the true story of a slave known as “Whipped Peter,” who joined the Union Army and appeared in an 1863 photograph taken by the Army during a medical examination. The raised welts on his back from whippings made it impossible for the rest of the nation to deny the horrors of slavery.
The drama is directed by Antoine Fuqua from a script written by William N. Collage. Smith produced the film and told Noah it isn’t a slave movie. “This is a freedom movie,” he said.
Emancipation debuts in theaters on Dec. 2 and begins streaming globally Dec. 9 on Apple TV+.
Watch Smith’s interview on The Daily Show above.