Will Smith Reveals ‘Dehumanizing’ Moment While Filming ‘Emancipation’

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Will Smith attends the Apple Original Films European Premiere for “Emancipation” at Vue West Photo by Dave Benett.

Filming Emancipation took a physical and emotional toll on Will Smith, the actor has revealed.

The Oscar-winning star hosted Wednesday’s episode of Red Table Talk, and sat down with his three children to discuss his grueling experiences on the film’s set.

Smith, who played a slave named Peter in the Apple Original Film, said he was deeply affected by the character, especially after filming a brutal scene where a shackle was locked around his neck.

“So they put it on, they do it. I’m standing there, and then [a crew member] goes to take it off, and it doesn’t work. So it’s locked on, and my heart jumps,” Smith recalled. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.’ I’m sitting there, and now he’s running around looking for the keys, and for 15 minutes, I’m stuck there in the chain, and my heart is pounding, and I’m like, ‘Will, do not freak.’ And I’m sitting there, and then it’s like I got it. It’s like, I’m Will Smith with people running around looking for keys.”

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Will Smith is shown on the set of Emancipation. (Credit: Apple TV+ via Facebook Watch)
Will Smith is shown on the set of Emancipation. (Credit: Apple TV+ via Facebook Watch)

The actor said the ordeal shed light on the atrocities Peter endured.

“My heart is still pounding, and I’m still scared. Imagine what it was like for Peter to have that stuff on. Barefooted and nobody cares. And it was like, ‘Whew, yep, I got it,’” Smith continued. “Really dehumanizing. And I haven’t been able to articulate why, but I felt embarrassed. I was embarrassed while I was standing there and I was waiting, and it was emasculating, dehumanizing, all of that, and it was like, ‘I got it.’”

The film is inspired by the true story of a runaway slave known as “Whipped Peter,” who went to extraordinary lengths in his quest for freedom after being ripped from his wife and children in the Antebellum South and taken to another plantation. After nearly being whipped to death, Peter embarked on a dangerous journey to reunite with his family, while being pursued by armed slave catchers and bloodhounds. He was forced to run, hide and brave many dangers on the road for freedom.

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“Once you experience those things, they go into the same banks as your actual memories,” Smith said about his experiences on set. “You don’t have a separate place for acting. Your brain and your body recognizes it the same way it recognizes actual memories.”

Will Smith’s Red Table Talk Takeover episode is now streaming on Facebook Watch. You can watch the video below.