While many rushed to pick sides after Academy Award-winning actor Will Smith walked on stage and smacked comedian Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head at the 94th-annual Academy Awards ceremony in March, Tyler Perry dealt with the difficulties of maintaining friendships with both men.
Roughly three months later, the director is opening up about what he said to Smith when cameras caught him and Denzel Washington speaking with the “King Richard” star after the shocking moment.
“There is a difference between comforting and de-escalating; that’s number one. And I left early to get to Chris to make sure he was okay. Being friends with both of them has been very difficult,” Perry, who was reluctant to speak on the March incident, told reporter Gayle King during a Q&A as part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Directors Series in New York City Monday, June 13.
“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,” Perry continued. “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.”
While he empathized with both men, Perry maintained that the act of violence was “wrong in no uncertain terms, and I made sure I said that to Will.”
The “Alex Cross” star recalled Smith’s demeanor when he walked over to him shortly after everything had transpired, noting that Smith was “devastated.” Perry added, “He couldn’t believe what happened. He couldn’t believe he did it. 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.”
Perry believes Smith “is very much in reflection of trying to figure out what happened,” citing a portion of Smith’s new memoir “Will” that he said talks about the actor “not being able to protect his mother at eight years old.”
“I know that feeling,” Perry said. “And if that trauma is not dealt with right away as you get older, it will show up in the most inappropriate and horrible times.”
Smith ultimately apologized to Rock and resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which later banned him from all awards show-related events for the next decade. However, he can still be nominated and win.