Actor Will Smith has made his biggest media appearance since slapping comedian Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars in March, admitting that he had to “humble down” after the incident.
Smith, who has resurfaced in recent days to promote his upcoming film Emancipation, sat down for an interview on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah on Monday night, US time.
“It’s been a while since I last saw you. It’s been a while since many people have seen you,” Noah noted at the start of the interview.
“I’ve been away. What have y’all been doing?” Smith joked, drawing warm laughter from the studio audience.
As the pair got stuck in, Noah described the night of the Oscars, at which Smith won his first Academy Award, as “one of the best days of your life and one of the worst days of your life”.
“I’d like to know, first of all, what the journey has been like since that day,” he said.
“Yeah that was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” Smith responded.
“There’s many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I lost it. And I guess what I would say you just never know what somebody’s going through.
“In the audience right now, you’re sitting next to strangers. And somebody’s mother died last week. Somebody’s child is sick. Somebody just lost their job. Somebody just found out their spouse cheated. There’s all these things, and you just don’t know what’s going on with people.
“I was going through something that night. Not that that justifies my behaviour at all. You’re asking, ‘What did I learn?’, it’s that we just gotta be nice to each other, man. It’s hard. And I guess the thing that was most painful for me was I took my hard and made it harder for other people. Hurt people hurt people.”
Noah relayed something one of his acquaintances had said in the immediate aftermath of the slap – that they thought they’d seen “the real Will Smith” in that moment.
“I said, ‘If anything, I feel like it was the opposite,’” the host recalled.
“You talk in your book about growing up afraid of conflict, how you were always afraid to fight. Watching that moment, I felt like you stood up for the wrong thing at the wrong time, in a way. Do you know what I’m saying?
“People have said some s****y things about you and your family. You’re a human being. It felt like … it’s becoming relentlessly s****y now. And people think that’s OK. And not Chris by the way, I’m talking about people, the internet, et cetera. But it felt like this was Will Smith, for the first time, going, ‘OK, is this how you want me to respond or not?’”
Smith replied that “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,” he said.
“That’s not who I want to be. You’ve known me for a long time, so you know. But y’all might not know. That’s not who I want to be, man.”
“I also think that’s not who you are,” Noah interjected.
“Now I’m crying for real,” said Smith, dabbing at his eyes with a tissue.
A visibly pained Smith recalled a moment when his nine-year-old nephew had been holding the Oscar he’d won, and asked why he “hit that man”.
“It was a mess. You know, I don’t want to go too far into it to give people more to misunderstand,” he said.
As the interview drew to a close, Noah offered more words of support.
“I think I speak for people when I say I don’t want that to define you. I don’t think it should define you,” he said.
“Yeah, I agree,” Smith said.
“I don’t think any of us in life deserve to be defined by our f*** up, like, the f*** up,” the host continued.
“I hope you don’t stay hidden forever. I hope you know that you don’t always have to bottle it up. I hope you know that you not being perfect is what will make you perfect. You’re Will Smith, man! You’re that dude. We love you, for real.”
“That was one of the big things for me over this last couple of months,” Smith told him.
“That I had to forgive myself for being human. And it’s like, trust me, there’s nobody that hates the fact that I’m human more than me. And just finding that space for myself, within myself, to be human.
“I’ve always wanted to be Superman. I’ve always wanted to swoop in and save the damsel in distress, you know? And I had to humble down and realise that I’m a flawed human, and I still have an opportunity to go out in the world and contribute in a way that fills my heart, and hopefully helps other people.”
Smith stormed on stage and struck Rock, who was hosting the Oscars, after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. She suffers from alopecia.
“Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth,” he shouted after resuming his seat.
A visibly shellshocked Rock continued with the ceremony, and Smith went on to win the award for Best Actor for his role in King Richard.
Smith was subsequently banned from the Oscars for ten years, though the Academy stopped short of rescinding his award.
He first broke his silence on the incident in July, saying he’d reached out to Rock but the comedian was “not ready to talk” yet.
“Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and personal work,” Smith told his fans in a video posted on his YouTube channel.
“You asked a lot of fair questions that I wanted to take some time to answer.”
He ran through several of those questions, the first of which was: “Why didn’t you apologise to Chris in your acceptance speech?”
“I was fogged out by that point. It’s all fuzzy,” Smith said.
“I’ve reached out to Chris, and the message that came back is he’s not ready to talk, and when he is he will reach out.
“I will say to you Chris, I apologise to you. My behaviour was unacceptable and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.
“I want to apologise to Chris’s mother. I saw an interview that Chris’s mother did, and you know, that was one of the things about that moment, I just didn’t realise, I wasn’t thinking how many people got hurt in that moment. So I want to apologise to Chris’s mother, to his family, specifically Tony Rock.”
Tony Rock, and actor and comedian, is Chris’s younger brother.
“We had a great relationship. You know, Tony Rock was my man. And this is probably irreparable,” Smith continued.
“I spent the last three months replaying and understanding the nuances and the complexities of what happened in that moment.
“I’m not going to try to unpack all of that right now, but I can say to all of you, there is no part of me that thinks that was the right way to behave in that moment. There’s no part of me that thinks that’s the optimal way to handle a feeling of disrespect or insults.”