Will Smith Never Thought He'd Make Anything Better Than 'The Pursuit of Happyness' Until 'King Richard'

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Will Smith is reflecting on one of the most "beautiful experiences" of his career.

ET's Nischelle Turner spoke to Smith and his King Richard co-stars, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn about why the biographical sports drama has been so impactful. The cast is being honored by the Palm Springs International Film Awards with the Ensemble Performance award.

"This one is special, it's still going, and you know it's funny, because you make the movie and then there's a period when you're away from it, while it's being edited and put together and all that, so you get distance from it," Smith explained. "So, by the time the film is coming out, you've potentially made one or two other things, and you've moved on in your mind, so when the audience sees it, it's almost like you're getting to see it again for the first time, along with the audience, and I was completely and utterly blown away at what Ray [Green} was able to do so delicately with this film."

King Richard has a little bit of everything. While it's a drama at its core, it has moments of laughter that hit you right before the water works start again.

"You always hear that cliche, 'Oh, I laughed, I cried,' [but] it's one of those films that really covers a broad spectrum of emotion and ideas, that's truly rare," he continued. "I had secretly in my mind felt that I would never make anything better than The Pursuit of Happyness, and I never said that out loud, but I felt like I would never make anything better than The Pursuit of Happyness and then I saw King Richard."

While Smith admits that at one point in his career his biggest concern was being a movie star, his focus has now shifted to creating and telling stories about "the triumph of the human spirit."

"I want to make stories that make me smile, I want to tell stories that make me cry and I want to tell stories about the triumph of the human spirit and the women of the movement, and King Richard fit in with that. The amount of time we spend on the set and on these things, I don't want to ask anybody, ever to do anything that they're not going to be proud of, for the rest of their life," Smith shared. "So, for me, that's where I am right now, when I call, and I say to people, 'Hey, come with me on this journey,' I want it to be something that is fun. And I want it to contribute to the evolution, and the growth of the consciousness and loving connection between human beings."

In receiving the award, albeit virtually, Smith went on to thank not only the Palm Springs International Film Festival but also Serena and Venus Williams and the rest of the Williams family for ensuring that their story was told as authentically as possible. 

"Thank you to the Palm Springs International Film Festival for honoring this cast and honoring this work," Smith began while holding the cast's award. "And really, for honoring the Williams family. The contribution that Richard and Oracene Venus and Serena and their entire family. The contribution that they've made to the world of tennis. The contribution that they have made to humanity. The contribution that they have made in showing what it means, and the power of uniting as a family around a dream, the power of love, the power of connection, the power of faith."

Smith also thanked the film's real-life ensemble cast for teaching him an important lesson that he and the rest of King Richard's players were able to learn.

"I asked Oracene one time, I said, 'Were you ever nervous, did you ever feel like, you know, oh, my goodness, maybe this is not going to work?' and she looked and she was so firm and she said, 'Never,' she said 'Fear is the opposite of faith.' And I was like, 'Whoa,' and in her eyes, I saw how they were able to do what they did, the belief in God, the belief and family, so to me, this is an honor for our ensemble cast and for the actual ensemble cast, the real-life ensemble cast."

"I want to say thank you, it's a beautiful film, it's a beautiful honor, and it feels great that that you like this one, thank you," Smith said, concluding the cast's King Richard acceptance speech.

You can watch King Richard on HBO Max and On Demand now, or grab it on Blu-Ray when it's released Feb. 8.

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