The actor said there were ‘many nuances and complexities’ behind his assault on Chris Rock, but he understood viewers’ revulsion
https://www.theguardian.com-‘I was going through something that night’ … Will Smith slapping Chris Rock during the 94th Oscars in Hollywood. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Will Smith has spoken out about the “horrific night” of his now infamous Oscars slap incident on his first late-night US talk show appearance since the incident.
Smith, 54, told Trevor Noah there were “many nuances and complexities” behind his actions, but also said: “I just lost it.”
At the 94th Academy Awards in March, Smith took to the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock across the face, in response to a joke Rock made about Smith’s wife’s shaven head. It is not known if Rock knew Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia.
Smith, who an hour later picked up the best actor award for his performance in tennis drama King Richard, subsequently apologised to Rock and to the Academy. He was banned from all Oscars events for 10 years.
He is currently being touted as a possible contender in next year’s Oscar race for his portrayal of escaped slave Peter – photographs of whose whipped back aided the abolition movement – in forthcoming drama Emancipation.
Appearing on Monday’s episode of The Daily Show, Smith began to explain to Noah a childhood history he felt might have contributed to his outburst, saying:
“It was a lot of things, it was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother. All of that just bubbled up in that moment. That’s not who I want to be …”
Noah then interjected by saying, “That’s not who you are. I think everybody can make a mistake.”
After wiping his eyes and regaining his composure, Smith continued: “That was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” he said.
“There’s many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just – I lost it, you know. I guess what I would say is that you just never know what somebody’s going through.
“I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behaviour at all.
“I understand how shocking that was for people … I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time.”
Emancipation marks Smith’s return to the big-screen after the incident and is directed by Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua.
The director has said that he felt the emotional and physical hardships endured by Smith during the shoot in the Louisiana swamps were unhelpful for his state of mind. Filming finished in January 2022.
The actor said the idea that the production would be “tainted” by his actions and not gain the recognition it deserved was “killing me dead”.
But he also said that he “completely understands” if audiences wanted to give the film a wide berth because of his behaviour.
In Smith’s memoir, which was released in 2021, he wrote extensively about his desire to make amends for a childhood marred by domestic violence, including discussing murderous thoughts towards his late father, for the abuse he had inflicted on his mother.
A study released in August this year found both Smith and his wife saw their popularity suffer a precipitous decline in the wake of March’s Oscars.
Meanwhile Rock, who has only fleetingly addressed the incident in public, saw his popularity ratings remain consistent but his recognition levels leap.
Next year’s Oscars are due to take place in March in a ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. It will be his third time hosting the event, which for the past four years has relied on a rolling series of presenters rather than a single host.