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Will Smith opens up to Trevor Noah about the 'rage' behind his Oscar slap


Will Smith has largely stayed out of the public eye since last spring after he slapped Chris Rock during the Academy Awards following a joke that Rock delivered about his wife, Jada. Smith published a video apology addressed to Rock over the summer. And this week, the actor did an interview with Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show."


WILL SMITH: That's not who I want to be, man. I'm trying to - you know, I'm trying to...

TREVOR NOAH: Yeah. I also think that's not who you are. I'll be honest with you. I think it's not who you are.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is joining us now to talk about this. Eric, it happened eight months ago. So why now for Will?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Well, you know, Will Smith has got a movie rolling out. So coincidence? I don't know. He has a new movie called "Emancipation" that's coming to theaters and also to Apple TV+. And it's a creatively ambitious movie. It's about an enslaved man who's running away from hunters trying to recapture him. And I think there's a sense that if he doesn't get out there and talk a little bit in a friendly forum about what happened at the Oscars, then the movie won't have as much of a chance in Hollywood's sort of awards shows that are coming up. There's a hope that this movie will do well. And so he has to get out there and sort of diffuse things.

And also, it's a movie that I think they're going to have a challenge getting people to watch it. Some people don't want to watch movies about enslaved people because the subject is so brutal. So if he can get out there and talk about it a little bit and maybe improve his image with some people who might have been turned off by what he did, you know, then maybe the movie will do better.

MARTÍNEZ: And how friendly of a forum did "The Daily Show" turn out to be for Will Smith?

DEGGANS: I think it was a particularly friendly forum. What we saw was that host Trevor Noah seemed to downplay the seriousness of what Will Smith had done. And there was a moment where Trevor Noah even made fun of the fact that some people said that Will Smith should have been arrested for what he did, when, in fact, what Will Smith did was walk onto a stage and physically assault somebody for telling a joke that he didn't like. And I was surprised to see Trevor Noah take that tack because Trevor is a stand-up comic himself. And if he was performing somewhere and someone walked up onstage and slapped him over a joke, if that person wasn't a celebrity, they'd probably be in jail. So it was an odd thing to see.

But Trevor sort of went along with this idea of providing a friendly forum for Will Smith to sort of talk about what happened. And then in the end, Trevor Noah almost forgave him, in a way, for the audience and said, you know, you're still a great guy and hugged him at the end of the interview.

MARTÍNEZ: And I noticed that Noah kept referring to Chris Rock and Will Smith as two of his close personal friends.

DEGGANS: Yeah. And I think that was sort of designed as a way to sort of say, you know, I know both these guys. I'm not necessarily picking a side. But in the substance of the interview, there wasn't much discussion of Chris Rock, who was actually the victim of this situation. And that's something that I found very striking. You know, the issue that I've had with some of what Will Smith's done to address this is that so much of this has been about his reactions and how he feels and what he's going through. And very little space has been devoted to this idea that Chris Rock was a victim of whatever he was going through and is still struggling with it. And we didn't see much talk about that in this interview, and that was also disappointing.

MARTÍNEZ: And would it be the biggest irony of ironies if he is nominated for "Emancipation" but can't go to the award ceremony?

DEGGANS: I got to say, I would be amazed if that actually happened. I think the academy - the Oscar Academy is very aware of how bad it would look to nominate this movie or to set up a situation where, you know, Will Smith might attend the Oscars or be asked to attend the Oscars or be expected to attend the Oscars. I don't think that's going to happen.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVONWHO'S "LYON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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