Tyler Perry on Will Smith Oscars Slap: 'He Couldn't Believe He Did It'
Tyler Perry recalls the Oscars incident for the first time, explaining that he was "deescalating" — not "comforting" — Will Smith in the moments after the actor hit Chris Rock onstage.
Tyler Perry is reflecting on what happened in the moments immediately following Will Smith's Oscars incident.
During the March awards show, 53-year-old Will walked onstage and struck comedian Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head. Jada lives with alopecia, and Will — who won Best Actor that night — explained in a statement days later that the punch line was "too much for me to bear" and he "reacted emotionally."
"I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness," Will added, later resigning from the Academy, which then banned him from attending their ceremonies for the next 10 years.
During a wide-ranging conversation with Gayle King as part of the Tribeca Film Festival's Directors Series in New York City Monday, Perry, 52, addressed the shocking moment and the immediate aftermath.
Perry (who was at the Oscars to honor Sidney Poitier during the In Memoriam segment) was photographed speaking to Will along with Denzel Washington directly after the smack, but as he clarified to King, he wasn't "comforting" him, he was "deescalating" the situation.
"There's a difference between comforting and deescalating, that's No. 1. And I left early to get to Chris to make sure he was okay. Being friends with both of them has been very difficult," said Perry.
"Trust me, as painful as it was for all of us in the room, it was as painful for Chris, who was a pure champion for the way he handled it," he added. "But I want you to understand that something happened that was extremely painful for [Will] as well. That is no excuse. He was completely wrong for what he did. But something triggered him — that is so out of everything he is."
Perry also added that the outburst was "wrong in no uncertain terms, and I made sure I said that to Will."
"And I'll tell you, when we walked over to him, he was devastated. He couldn't believe what happened. He couldn't believe he did it," the filmmaker/actor recalled of Will's demeanor. "I'm looking at this man in his eyes going, 'What are you doing? This is your night.' And to get all the way to this moment, winning an Oscar, that was one of the crowning moments of his career that he wanted so desperately, and to have something like that happen...."
"I think he is very much in reflection of trying to figure out what happened," continued Perry. "Because what I'll tell you is I just read his book, and there's this moment about not being able to protect his mother [as a child]. I know that feeling — I'm getting chills just thinking about it. I know that feeling of being a man and thinking about the little boy. And if that trauma is not dealt with right away, as you get older it will show up in the most inappropriate, most horrible time. I know Will. I know him well."
In the weeks since the Oscars, Rock, 57, has made brief jokes at standup performances referencing the moment, but he hasn't yet spoken about it in length. He has said he'll "talk about it at some point" eventually.
Jada, 50, addressed the incident on a recent episode of her Red Table Talk show, saying, "About Oscar night: My deepest hope is that these two intelligent, capable men have an opportunity to heal, talk this out and reconcile. With the state of the world today, we need 'em both, and we all actually need one another more than ever. Until then, Will and I are continuing to do what we have done for the last 28 years — and that's [to] keep figuring out this thing called life together. Thank you for listening."