Will Smith Says He ‘Went Too Far’ for ‘Emancipation’ and Got Stuck in Real Slave Chains: ‘I Wanted to Feel the Degradation’
Will Smith told Kevin Hart on a new episode of Peacock’s “Hart to Heart” talk show that he “went too far” as an actor while portraying a slave in the Apple drama “Emancipation.” The film, Smith’s first release after the notorious Oscars slap, centered on the true story of a runaway slave named Peter, a photograph of whom became a rallying call for the abolition of slavery as it depicted his mutilated back scars from several whippings.
“I went too far in ‘Emancipation,’” Smith said. “Just bringing it up, I start to get teary. I wanted to feel the degradation of slavery, and I went too far in. That level of human brutality… I had the chains on my neck and we were working. I wanted the real weight of them. I wanted real chains. They put it on my neck and they were fitting it for size and the prop master went to put the key in and it didn’t work.”
More from Variety
“I’m standing there and they’re running around and they couldn’t get me out of it,” Smith continued. “I’m standing there in those chains, right on that hyperventilating edge.”
Smith said that “coming face to face with that level of atrocity” left him shaken and turning to God.
“I wouldn’t give it back,” he said. “It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as an actor. Peter introduced me to God. My faith got solid after working on that movie.”
“Emancipation” was directed by Antoine Fuqua. Variety film critic Peter Debruge called the film a “brutal but essential” drama, adding praise for Smith’s “ultra-focused and unusually low-key” leading performance. Watch Smith’s appearance on the “Hart to Heart” talk show in the video below.
Best of Variety