“I only lost an Oscar to other black actors”

Will Smith had just opened his eyes “brilliantly and early” on Tuesday in Wyoming, United States, where he was speaking at a business conference, when his phone started ringing. This year’s Oscar nominations had just been announced.

“It was like, um oh, wait, let me Google myself and see what happened,” Smith said in a phone interview later that afternoon. “But it was just a nice, pleasant surprise.”

Smith was nominated for Best Actor for his role as the father of Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard. It’s the third time for the actor, now 53, who was also in contention for Ali in 2002 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2007.

The actor said for a long time he secretly feared he would never do something as good as The Pursuit of Happyness, the story of a man trying to hold his family together in the face of homelessness.

Will Smith (2000). Photography: Harry Langdon/Getty Images

“I thought I had reached my artistic peak,” he said. “So for the world to react to this movie and so energize me as an artist. I’m just wildly inspired to create and even be able to tell stories like this,” a sports drama.

King Richard chronicles the journey and triumph of an ambitious father determined to make his daughters tennis champions. The film also stars Aunjanue Ellis, who received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Williams family matriarch Oracene Price. In total, the film earned six nominations, including one for Best Picture.

If Smith wins, it will be the first time he has won an Oscar after more than 30 years in the business as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

In a phone interview, Smith discussed the nominations for King Richard, working with director Reinaldo Marcus Green and the particular way he plans to celebrate this recognition. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Will Smith in King Richard.  Photography: Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Will Smith in King Richard. Photography: Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Q: Hey, Will! How is it going?

A: Everything is in divine order. How are you?

Q: I’m fine and congratulations!

A: Thanks thanks. It was a bit mind-blowing.

Q: What was it exactly? Nomination ?

A: Six! I’ve had films that have been successful at the box office and been nominated twice before, but it’s like a love fest for the film, the entire cast, the crew. It’s definitely a bit of a new world.

Q: What do you think of the other five nominations King Richard has received, especially on Aunjanue Ellis who received it first?

A: We spent so much time together and became friends, and I know how hard she worked and my heart yearned for her to be honored. His work was so subtle in this movie. It’s the kind of exquisite and extraordinary performance that can be overlooked. So I was delighted that she was honored. And then just for Venus and Serena and the whole Williams family. For Richard Williams, he was hugely misunderstood for so many years. I love that the world stands up and recognizes their history, recognizes their family.

Will Smith (1995).  Photography: Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Will Smith (1995). Photography: Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Q: This is the third time you’ve been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actor category and for playing another real-life character. What does it do?

A: This one is really different. It’s one thing to be singularly named. And it’s something else when it’s the whole group, the film. It’s just a different thing. It could have been a much smaller story. But with audiences recognizing the universal gifts and power of ideas in this film, it’s beautifully uplifting and inspiring to me.

Q: Can you share some thoughts on the other films that won awards from the academy this morning? Anything you’ve seen and are looking for, obviously outside of your own?

A: I just learned that Denzel, with this nomination, became the most nominated black actor in history. So as soon as we hang up, I’ll post about it. [Denzel Washington on Tuesday earned his 10th Oscar nomination, for The Tragedy of Macbeth.]

Q: Speaking of Denzel Washington, I also understand that 2002 marked the first time two black actors competed for Best Actor. Washington won that year for Training Day, and now it’s 20 years later and you’re back here. What does it do?

A: You know, it’s funny, I don’t think I’ve talked about it before. So those two times I was nominated before, I only lost to black actors. I lost once to Denzel and the next was Forest Whitaker. So it’s funny, Jada [Pinkett Smith, his wife] and I was talking about inclusion and all that [the issue of the lack of diversity among Oscar nominees over the years] and I was like, “I’ve only ever lost to black actors!” [laughs].

Will Smith (1996).  Photography: Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Will Smith (1996). Photography: Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Q: Have you spoken to the director of the film?

A: Yes, we spoke this morning. He is so calm and gentle. I was like, “Man, your movie’s nominated for best picture, you’ve got a bunch of nominated actors. You can laugh a little if you want. He’s so humble and happy for other people. And what I loves about him, it’s like he never tries to fend for himself, and even on set, that’s part of the beauty of what he’s been able to create.

Q: You’ve had a rich and busy year, with the premiere of King Richard, the publication of your memoir, Will, last fall, your new Disney+ documentary about the planet and the new adaptation of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air last month. next. And now, with this recognition, how do you plan to celebrate it all?

A: We celebrate by creating the next thing. We live in celebration that we can do this for a living. It’s as if every day were a celebration of the gift of living and working. I don’t think of it in terms of “grind, grind, grind and celebrate.” For example, let’s just be grateful for this opportunity, and gratitude is an important part of my belief in how you can create great things, to live in gratitude constantly. I don’t feel the need to set aside party time like this.

Q: What excites you the most about the awards ceremony?

A: I am thrilled to honor my cast and crew, as well as Venus and Serena. And I will do it in person or in my living room if Covid requires it. But I am excited and ready to distribute flowers to my people. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times

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