Will Smith talks of 'pain' and protecting his family in David Letterman interview taped before Oscars slap

Will Smith accepts the Actor in a Leading Role award for ‘King Richard’ onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California.
Photo credit Getty Images

Will Smith is shedding new light on his past.

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In a just released interview taped before the infamous “Oscars slap,” an excited and hopeful Smith talks with David Letterman about a number of insights into his personality that are now heavily weighted with irony.

Recorded for Letterman’s Netflix interview series, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction,” Smith talks about his new memoir, Will, his work on the Oscar-nominated “King Richard,” and delves into some pain from his youth that he says has influenced his life decisions.

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Smith talks about the incident when he was nine years old when he watched his mother get physically abused by his father, but did nothing to intervene. He says from that incident on, he’d always considered himself a “coward.” The reference is made in the very first line of his memoir that was released last fall.

But it is in facing his previous self-esteem problems through the writing of the book that, at time of the interview’s taping at least, had seemed to bring Smith to a new, more hopeful point in his life.

“Life is so exciting to me right now,” he tells Letterman, “because I can reach people differently than I’ve ever been able to reach people, largely because of my pain. I’m really ready to dive into my heart in a way that I think will be hopefully fulfilling for me and helpful for the human family.”

As Deadline noted, so much of what Smith says in the interview registers quite differently since the Oscars embarrassment, when Smith walked onto the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock across the face after a joke Rock made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

In a near chillingly ironic moment, Letterman makes a reference to Smith’s mother, to which Smith jokingly responds, “Don’t say nothing about my mother, Dave.”

During a section where they discuss the making of Smith’s 2001 Muhammad Ali biopic, Smith shows off a few quick punches he learned for the film, and Letterman responds, “Jesus, that was frightening. Don’t do that again.”
And a simple moment describing his genuine concern for being there for his family once again takes on a heavier tone today. “Protection and safety is an illusion," said the actor. "You have to learn to live with the reality that any moment, anything can be gone in one second. So with that reality, how can you be here? And how can you be joyful and be here?”

Smith's episode of Letterman’s series begins, “This episode was filmed prior to the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony.”

In addition to Smith, this season Letterman also interviews Billie Eilish, Cardi B, Ryan Reynolds, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Kevin Durant.

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