Actor Will Smith appeared on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah in the first late-night interview since the Oscars controversy.
Promoting his new historical drama Emancipation, Smith’s conversation with the late-night host naturally dug into his Oscars night controversy, in which he slapped Chris Rock onstage as the comedian was introducing the category of best documentary feature.
“I have been away,” Will Smith said, drawing a laugh from the crowd when the topic of his absence from the public eye came up, reports Variety.
“What have y’all been doing?”
“That was a horrific night, as you can imagine. There’s many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just – I lost it, you know?” Will Smith continued.
“I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behaviour at all… It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother, you know? All of that just bubbled up in that moment. That is not who I want to be.”
Trevor Noah interjected, offering his own perspective on the situation and recalling the discussions he had with peers about the controversy.
“I love Chris. I’m friends with him. I love you, but this is fucked up… I know that as Black people, Black people get together and go, ‘What was Will doing? What the hell happened?’ A lot of Black people were like, ‘He should go to jail, Like, you need to relax yourself’,” Trevor Noah said, earning a laugh from Smith.
“Some people were overreacting, which made some people underreact.”
Will Smith shared an anecdote from the aftermath on Oscars evening, when he was already having to deal with the consequences of his outburst in his private life.
“I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time,” Smith said, “My nephew is nine. He is the sweetest little boy.”
“We came home. He had stayed up late to see his uncle Will and we are sitting in my kitchen and he is on my lap and he is holding the Oscar and he is just like, ‘Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?’ Damn it. Why are you trying to Oprah me?”
Will Smith also discussed Emancipation, sharing the decision-making that led him to the project. Based on true events, the film stars Smith as a runaway slave who becomes known to the world as “Whipped Peter,” as widely distributed photographs of keloid scarring on his back exposed the extreme brutality of slavery.
First seeing that image was one of the things that really got me excited to explore this, because you see the image, but you don’t know who he is, you don’t know what the story is,” Will Smith said. “American slavery was one of the most brutal aspects of human history… It is hard to understand the level of human cruelty. My daughter asked me,Daddy, do we really need another slave movie? I said, Daby, ‘I promise you, I wouldn’t make a slave movie. This is a freedom movie’.”