When Will Smith was at his lowest moment during the 2022 Oscars, he says actor and friend Denzel Washington was there to offer the advice he needed.
On Sunday, Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face after he made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. While presenting the Best Documentary award, Rock joked about Pinkett Smith starring in “G.I. Jane II.” The 1997 film G.I. Jane follows a woman, played by Demi Moore, who is training to be in the Navy. Like her male Navy counterparts, she has a shaved head. Pinkett Smith has a shaved head because she suffers from a medical condition, alopecia, that causes hair loss.
The slap left the audience at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles and the millions of viewers from around the world watching at home in shock.
During the commercial break, Washington reportedly joined fellow actors Tyler Perry and Bradley Cooper in confronting and talking to an emotional Smith, who could be seen wiping away tears.
Later that night, while accepting the Best Actor Award for his role in King Richard, Smith revealed what was said.
“Denzell said to me a few minutes ago, he said, ‘At your highest moment, be careful – that’s when the devil comes for you,'” Smith said during his acceptance speech, to applause.
The advice echoed the words of Peter in the New Testament: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Smith, in King Richard, plays Richard Williams, the father and coach of tennis phenoms Venus Williams and Serena Williams. The movie depicts the elder Williams as defending his daughters against gang members who make sexually explicit jokes about the girls. Gangsters beat up Williams multiple times in the film.
In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world.”
Smith then acknowledged that he crossed a line in slapping Rock.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” Smith said. “I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse, you’ve got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and you’ve got to pretend like that’s okay.”
Smith apologized “to the academy” and “to all my fellow nominees.” (Later in the week, he apologized to Rock.)
After mentioning the words of Denzell Washington, Smith said he wants “to be a vessel for love” during his career.
“I want to say thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story,” Smith said. “That’s what I want to do – I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern.”