Will Smith Says He Understands If People Are “Not Ready” for His Onscreen Return

The actor is gearing up for the release of his first film since that Oscars slap.

Words by Rosa Sanchez

Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Will Smith is gearing up for the release of his first film since that Oscars slap—but he knows some people may not be ready for his return.

In a new interview, the actor addressed the news of his onscreen comeback following his 94th Academy Awards controversy, when he jumped onstage to slap presenter (and longtime friend) Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Smith told Fox 5 DC reporter Kevin McCarthy that he will “absolutely respect” those who are “not ready” to see his return in the upcoming film Emancipation, per an interview clip published yesterday.

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Celebrities famously took sides, quite publicly, after the slap, and Smith was even banned from all Academy events for the next 10 years despite the fact that he won two Best Actor awards—at the Oscars and at the BET Awards—for his lead role in King Richard.

In his interview, Smith said he hopes his actions at the Oscars—for which he’s apologized profusely since March—don’t negatively affect others on his team and in the movie.

“I completely understand that if someone is not ready. I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready,” Smith said. “My deepest concern is my team—[director Antoine Fuqua] has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career.”

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Smith also said the creatives he worked with on Emancipation “have done some of the best work of their entire careers” and added that “my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team.”

In the film, which premieres December 2, Smith plays Peter, a man who flees a plantation in Louisiana after he is whipped nearly to death, and attempts to reunite with his family. The actor called the experience of stepping into the role “one of the most grueling and transformative processes of my entire career.”

“I’m hoping that the material, the power of the film, the timeliness of the story, I’m hoping that the good that can be done would open people’s hearts at a minimum to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film,” Smith told McCarthy. “At this point, that’s what I’m working for, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

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This story originally appeared in harpersbazaar.com