Did Method Acting Break Will Smith?
Perhaps Will Smith was still in character during the infamous “slap”…
(By Carmichael Phillips)
What caused Will Smith’s now infamous slap at the Oscars? What made him jump on stage and physically assault comedian Chris Rock in front of millions of people?
Surely it wasn’t Chris Rock’s joke; a joke that Will Smith initially laughed at. Surely it wasn’t animosity towards Rock; the two have known each other for many years.
Perhaps Method Acting is the culprit. Perhaps Will Smith got so deep into his portrayal of Richard Williams that he went overboard in his desire to protect his wife.
The Good Guy
Throughout his acting career, which now spans more than 3 decades, Will Smith has always been the proverbial “good guy”. Even as a rapper, Smith was clean cut.
In the early 90’s, as gangsta rap engulfed the world of hip hop, led by groups like NWA and The Wu Tang Clan, Will Smith continued his “Mr. Clean”, no-profanity approach to music.
“There’s the person you want to be viewed as. And then there’s who you REALLY are.”
(Will Smith, on David Letterman’s My Next Guess Needs No Introduction)
In fact, he wore it as a badge of honor, despite being attacked by rappers like Eminem. In his song The Real Slim Shady, Eminem sang:
Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps
To sell records
Well, I do!
So f**k him,
And f**k you, too.”
Unfazed, Smith continued to release wholesome, PG-13 songs and albums, and continued to nurture a positive persona.
His good-guy image followed him to the big screen, as he transitioned from “Fresh Prince” the rapper to “Will Smith” the movie star. From playing characters like the affable hero in Independence Day (1996) to the friendly relationship coach in Hitch (2005), Smith’s roles were mostly that of the positive protagonist.
But more recently, Smith stepped into the role of Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, in the film King Richard (2021). Richard Williams, as Will Smith describes him, was a “fierce protector of his family”.
The Method Acting Theory
(Will Smith in King Richard)
Smith, by his own admission, makes a near “psychotic” commitment to each character he plays. Smith has also intimidated in his memoir that he has felt like a coward his whole life for not being a fierce protector of his mother, as she suffered physical abuse at the hands of his father.
And so, the theory goes, the character of Richard Williams never really left Will Smith’s psyche. Maybe he got so deep into the role that it transformed “Will Smith, the good guy” into “Will Smith, the fierce protector”.
“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.”
(Will Smith, from his apology video)
Maybe, witnessing his wife be the butt of Chris Rock’s G.I. Jane joke, and her negative reaction to it, brought out the Richard Williams character that had never really left Will Smith.
So perhaps, as some have theorized, Method Acting broke Will Smith.
That would explain why a man who has, for decades, portrayed himself as a good guy would physically assault Chris Rock. Perhaps he was, essentially, still in character.
It wouldn’t be the first time Method Acting has blurred the lines between a character and an actor’s personal life. And it won’t be the last.
To be clear, there are no excuses that can ever be made for physically assaulting someone else. This article was not written to excuse his behavior, but rather to examine whether or not Smith’s acting process had anything to do with it. There’s a good chance that it did.
How can an actor dive so deeply into the soul of a character and not lose a bit of his own soul in the process? It’s next to impossible.
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