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‘He Felt Like a Weight Was Lifted Off of His Shoulders’: Will Smith Reveals What His ‘Mentor’ Denzel Washington Said Winning His First SAG Award for ‘King Richard’

It’s only been two months since the new year began, but 2022 may mark a career-defining moment in first-time Golden Globe winner Will Smith’s Hollywood legacy, and he doesn’t appear to be the only person who thinks so. Following his first Screen Actor Guilds Awards win at Sunday night’s 28th-Annual SAG Awards, Smith shared the encouraging message his “mentor” and veteran Hollywood actor Denzel Washington gave him after his big win.

Following Sunday night’s ceremony, in which Smith took home the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role for his role in “King Richard,” the 53-year-old sat down with “PEOPLE (the TV Show!),” where he opened up about his relationship with the “The Tragedy of Macbeth” star. 

(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) NEW YORK – JUNE 13: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE; PREMIUM RATES APPLY) Denzel Washington and Will Smith in the audience at the 64th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 13, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

“We’ve spent a lot of time together. So we’ve been talking, he’s always been a mentor for me, and he grabbed me, and he said, ‘This is your year,’ ” Smith told host Kay Adam. “He just hugged me, and he said, ‘I’m so happy for you. Just love who you’re becoming.’ “

The star from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” revealed that his friendship with Washington stretched far back. “He knew me years ago,” Smith added. “I would go to Denzel for advice, so he’s seen me through the years, and he was just telling me how proud he is of who I’ve become and what I’ve become. He was saying that he felt like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders somehow.” 

As for his current career journey, Smith told the outlet, “It’s been a time of deep personal reflection, and it is resulting in an artistic comprehension and a growth as a man, growth as an artist, that I’ve never had this kind of growth spurt in my life.”

Smith and Washington’s seemingly student-teacher relationship will soon turn into a friendly competition after both received a Best Actor nomination from the Academy Awards on Tuesday, Feb. 8: Smith for his part in “King Richard” and Washington for his role as Mcbeth in the Joel Coen-directed drama thriller. 

This marks Smith’s third nomination in his 25-year career without a single win. He previously received nominations for “Ali” in 2002 and “Pursuit of Happyness” in 2007. For Washington, the recognition marks his 10th Oscar nom, making him the most nominated Black actor in the history of the awards.

The 67-year-old won his first Oscar Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1990 film “Glory,” and has since been highlighted for his part in films such as “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” “Malcolm X” and “Fences.”

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