Eight months after the slap heard around the world, Will Smith made his first late-night appearance on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” November 28 to promote his upcoming Apple TV+ historical film “Emancipation.” And yes, the subject of his altercation with Chris Rock at this year’s Oscars did come up.
“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? I guess what I would say, you just never know what somebody’s going through,” Smith said. “I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behavior at all, I would just say, you’re asking what I learned. And it’s that, we just got to be nice to each other man? It’s hard. And I guess the thing that’s most painful for me is, I took my hard and made it hard for other people. I understand the idea when they say ‘hurt people hurt people.'”
During this March’s Oscars, Smith stormed the stage and slapped Rock, who was presenting the Best Documentary category, after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head. Pinkett-Smith has alopecia areata, a condition that causes baldness. In the interview, Noah described Smith’s actions as “standing up for the wrong thing at the wrong time,” and said he felt that the outburst was connected to disparaging things the public has said about his family, presumably referring to infidelity rumors regarding Smith and Pinkett-Smith’s relationship.
“One of my friends called me and we’re talking and talking and everyone’s got these opinions, and someone says, ‘I feel like we saw the real Will Smith in that moment…’ I said, ‘If anything, it’s the opposite.’ You talk in your book about growing up so afraid of conflict,” Noah said. “It felt like this was Will Smith, for the first time, going, ‘Okay, is this how you want me to respond or not?'”
“It was a lot of things,” Smith said in reply. “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.”
Noah also discussed the reaction that the slap garnered from the public, which led to Smith resigning from the Academy and being banned from their events for 10 years. Many have since criticized the public response to the controversy as overly excessive for what actually happened, and Noah spoke about how the response to the controversy from the Black community.
“Black people be together and go, ‘What was Will doing? What the hell happened?’” Noah said. “But I know a lot of Black people who, people came out and were like, ‘He should go to jail.’ We were like, ‘You need to relax yourself.’ Some people were overreacting, which made some people underreact.”
“Emancipation,” a drama about a slave escaping to join the Civil War’s Union army, is set to be released in theaters on December 2 before streaming on Apple TV+ on December 9. The film is Apple TV+’s main awards contender this year, and the cast and crew have spent the press cycle for the project addressing the slap. In a Vanity Fair interview, director Antoine Fuqua said that “The film to me is bigger than that moment. Four hundred years of slavery is bigger than one moment.” Smith also recently addressed the slap in an interview with journalist Kevin McCarthy.
“I completely understand — if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready. My deepest concern is my team – Antoine has done what I think is the greatest work of his entire career,” Smith said. “The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers, and my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team. At this point, that’s what I’m working for. 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.”
Watch Smith’s full “Daily Show” interview below.