Will Smith knew he had to tell story of Richard Williams

Rick's Reviews
Will Smith as Richard Williams

Will Smith was driven to make a movie about the life of Richard Williams. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Will Smith knew exactly what he had to do as soon as he learned the story of how Richard Williams predicted two years before the birth of his daughters – Venus and Serena –that they would be stars. The two-time Oscar nominee wanted to be part of telling that story on the big screen.

That’s exactly what happened. Smith stars in the new feature film “King Richard” that opens in theaters Nov. 19 and will be available starting that day on the streaming service of HBO Max. The film looks at the inspirational journey of a family whose unwavering resolve and unconditional belief ultimately delivers two of the world’s greatest sports legends.

One of the key moments in his research into the story of Richard Williams that convinced Smith that he had to play him on screen was an interview that Venus Williams did when she was 13 years old.

“It’s a famous interview where Richard Williams snaps on a reporter and says ‘Now she’s done said what she’s done said with a whole lot of confidence.’ I saw that and the look on Venus’s face burned an image in my heart,” Smith says. “That’s how I wanted my daughter to look when I show up.

“The look on Venus’ face was that she had a lion. She was so confident and comfortable that her lion wasn’t going to let anything happen to her. I fell in love with Richard Williams.”

The more Smith researched the role, the more he found it to be a powerful story of belief, love, family and faith. Smith fought hard to get the story of the Williams family told because he wanted to show to the world the devotion of a man to protecting his family.

And, that family became one of the most dominating forces the tennis world has ever seen. It’s a story that starts in an unlikely place as Venus and Serena began their rise to stardom training on neglected tennis courts in Compton. It’s there the girls are shaped by their father’s unyielding commitment and their mother’s balanced perspective and keen intuition.

Smith is joined in telling the story by Aunjanue Ellis who plays the girls’ mom, Oracene “Brandy” Williams. Saniyya Sidney stars as Venus Williams while Demi Singleton takes on the role of Serena Williams. Other cast members include Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal.

Although Smith started his career as a rapper, it is his work on TV and films that have made him one of the biggest stars on the planet. His acting roles include “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, “I Am Legend,” “Bad Boys,” “Ali,” “Men In Black,” “Hitch” and “Aladdin.” He also executive produced and hosted Netflix’s six-part docuseries “Amend: The Fight for America,” which explores the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution with an inclusive array of contemporary thought-leaders and experts.

Smith has reached a point in his career where he will only take on a role where he can explore or learn something new. What he discovered with the story of Richard Williams is a style of parenting where it is not mom and dad against the children but everyone in the family working together.

That was definitely different from the way Smith was raised as his father parented based on his being in the military. He says growing up in that kind of household meant he never got a vote.

“King Richard” is not the first time Smith has played a father on the big screen. He earned an Academy Award nomination for playing a father struggle to help himself and his son in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Add to that the fact Smith is a father in real life and the connection to Richard Williams was a natural fit.

The last elements he needed to play the role came from the Williams sisters. Serena Williams calls seeing a film based on her father’s journey as a “surreal” experience.

“To have Will play my father and the way he embodied Richard Williams took the film to a whole new level,” Williams says.

During Smith’s initial meeting to talk about making the movie, he got some deep insight into what kind of father Richard Williams was from Venus.

Smith says, “In our first meetings, Venus said it was almost like they brainwashed us. Our punishment was that we couldn’t play tennis. So they never had to push. It was like there was this Jedi mind trick.

“It wasn’t this standard thing you see of a parent pushing and driving a child. It was just them throwing fuel on a fire that came from inside Venus and Serena. It was a very different approach that was magical in the Williams family. Faith was at the center and then it was a collective journey.”

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