The 53-year-old actor took home the trophy for Outstanding Performance By a Male Actor during the Sunday, February 27, awards show for his role in King Richard. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alum played Serena Williams and Venus Williams’ dad, Richard Williams, in the November 2021 film.
“I’m here tonight with Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the girls who play Venus and Serena, and Aunjanue Ellis, and Venus is here with her sister Isha, who’s an executive producer,” the Pennsylvania native told Entertainment Tonight after accepting his award. “It’s all of these Black women that I get to protect and shine a light on, you know, across the generations.”
The Will author added that he feels a “responsibility” to tell their story, noting that he also “get[s]” the 80-year-old tennis coach on a deep level.
“You know, [he’s] that post-World War II Black man in America with a dream and everyone tells you, ‘You’re crazy,’ you know?” the I Am Legend star explained to the outlet. “My father was that guy, and he just [has] these big dreams and no support at all, but you do it anyway.”
Javier Bardem, Denzel Washington, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Garfield were also up for the honor, and Smith told the outlet on Sunday that Washington, 67, has been “a mentor” to him over the years.
“He’s seen a whole lot of iterations of Will Smith,” the Grammy winner explained. “Like, Denzel’s always one of my first calls when stuff’s not going right. He’s given me critical advice at really critical moments. [Tonight], he just hugged me and said, ‘This is your year,’ and he said, ‘I’m so proud of the man you’ve become.’ He grabbed a weight off of [my] shoulders and said, ‘You got it.'”
When the rapper gave his acceptance speech, he called the moment “one of the greatest” of his career.
“Richard Williams is a dreamer like no one you’ve ever known,” the producer told the audience. “He has a power of belief that borders on insanity and sometimes tips over the border, which is absolutely necessary to take something from impossible to possible. … Venus, Serena, the Williams family, you entrusted me and our group with your story. But when I got the call and you watched the movie and you said you loved it, I just want to say thank you very much. It was my deepest pleasure to honor your family and to tell your story to the world.”
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Smith attended the awards ceremony with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The couple, who have been married since 1997, share son Jaden, 23, and daughter Willow, 21. The Seven Pounds star is also the father of son Trey, 29.