Will Smith explains how he became Peter for Emancipation

Want the whole Emancipation promotion without the awkward Oscar-slapping questions that Will Smith inevitably gets asked? Then the movie star’s takeover of the family series Red Table Talk is just what the doctor ordered.

On Smith’s “Red Table Takeover” with kids Trey, Willow and Jaden – which was streamed on Facebook Watch on Wednesday – it was as if the slap never happened. The session began and ended with stories about Smith’s work on Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation,” which premiered Friday on Apple TV+.

The actor described the moment he felt the character of Peter, an enslaved man, wash over him. It was the day they tried on the shackles and other chains, and footage was filmed showing Smith locking chains around his ankles, wrists and neck.

“You put it on and I stand there and he takes it off and it doesn’t work,” Smith said. “So it clicked into place and my heart skips a beat. And I’m like, oh no, oh no, oh no. “

He sat while the crew member helping him board and disembark walked around looking for the keys.

“I’m stuck there in the chains for 15 minutes,” Smith continued. “So my heart is pounding and I’m like, ‘Will, don’t freak.’ And I sit there and then it’s like I got it. “I’m Will Smith, with People walk around looking for keys‘, and my heart is still beating and I’m still scared. Imagine what it was like for Peter to put that stuff on, barefoot, and nobody cares.”

Smith was clearly moved by the story of Peter, who escaped from a Louisiana farm in 1863 and ran nearly 80 miles to Baton Rouge, La., where the Union Army was stationed. A photo of Peter’s scarred back became “the first viral image,” Smith said, after it was published in Harper’s Weekly and also copied and distributed by several abolitionists.

He said that aside from “Six Degrees of Separation,” a 1993 release, “Emancipation” was the closest thing to “losing” in a character.

“I wouldn’t say I went too far with Peter – I just lost count of how far I’ve gone. I got a little twisted there,” Smith said. The danger of taking a character too far, he said, is that when it’s time to be yourself again, you don’t know exactly who that self is.

“You go into a state and if you go that one click too far, Will Smith disappears,” he said.

Will Smith is also gone in the eyes of co-star Ben Foster.

From the first day of shooting, the method actor purposely ignored, didn’t speak to, or made eye contact with Foster Smith, and it was that way for the entire six months they worked together on the film. It wasn’t until Smith and director Fuqua were sitting at the monitor one day looking at the last shot of the day that Foster suddenly approached him.

“He comes to the monitor and looks at the recording. And Antoine says: “I am happy. We have it.’ I look over at Ben. It’s his last day. He says, ‘Nice to meet you, man,'” and then he shook Smith’s hand.

The entire table erupted in laughter. But Smith credited Foster’s behavior — treating him like he was nothing — with getting him clicked into “the next gear of depth and focus” on the first day of shooting.

As for Will Smith, who is unrelated to “Emancipation,” the Oscar-winning actor spoke to Trevor Noah about last year’s slap in the face on “The Daily Show” in late November.

During the 2021 Academy Awards, Smith notoriously slapped Chris Rock in the face after the comic made a lame joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. She has struggled with alopecia, a condition associated with hair loss, and after he smiled at first, Will Smith’s expression darkened and he stood up and did what he was doing to defend his wife.

“That was a horrible night, as you can imagine. There’s a lot of nuance and complexity, but at the end of the day I just lost it,” Smith said, occasionally breaking down in tears during the interview. “And I guess what I’d say, you just never know what someone’s going through. … I went through something that night. Not that that would justify my behavior at all.”

Smith mentioned that he was a boy who watched his father beat up his mother, and Noah spoke about Smith’s memoir, in which he described growing up afraid of conflict and afraid of fights. The host described Smith’s behavior at the Oscars as the actor who stood up for the wrong thing at the wrong time.

“I understand how shocking that was for people … That was a rage that’s been bottled for a really long time,” Smith said on the show. “But I understand the pain.”

Emancipation streams on Apple TV+.

Nardine Saad, a Times contributor, contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-12-14/will-smith-emancipation-red-table-takeover-ben-foster Will Smith explains how he became Peter for Emancipation

Sarah Ridley

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