Will Smith plays Venus and Serena’s ‘lion’ in ‘King Richard’
Published: Nov 16, 2021 05:43 PM
The film King Richard plots the improbable rise of Serena and Venus Williams, from training on crumbling, gang-riddled Compton tennis courts to becoming all-time sporting greats.

The movie could soon cap another unlikely journey, with former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Will Smith heavily tipped to win his first Oscar for best actor, as their larger-than-life father, coach and manager.

Smith "fell in love with Richard Williams" two decades ago, after watching him leap to 14-year-old daughter Venus's defense in an interview with an overly insistent journalist.

"The look of Venus's face... the image burned in my heart," he told an online press conference. "Because that's how I wanted my daughter to look when I showed up."

"I knew I wanted to show a father protecting a daughter like that to the world," said Smith, who signed on to star in and produce the Warner Bros film.

The film, which had its Los Angeles premiere Sunday during AFI Fest, focuses on how the Williams' unusual and tight-knit family in an impoverished and mainly black neighborhood of the same city shaped their future success.

Richard Williams, a self-taught coach, famously wrote a 78-page plan to make Venus and Serena the top players in the world before they were even born, having learnt about the lucrative prize money on offer.

Venus - whose seven Grand Slam titles would later be eclipsed by Serena's 23 - occupies more of the screen time, having paved the way for her younger sister with early wins at junior tournaments.

"I love that Venus opened doors, and her sister just ran through," Saniyya Sidney, who plays Venus, told AFP.

"She's so humble, she doesn't even look at the status, or who's bigger... being given this opportunity to show the world exactly what Venus did, is so, so important."

Growing up seeing "girls that look like me are in a sport that is predominantly a white sport... means so much to me," said Sidney.

For Smith - a father of three - watching Richard Williams protect his daughters all those years ago helped to shape his performance.

"It was like [Venus] had a lion. And she was so confident and so comfortable that her lion wasn't going to let anything happen to her," he recalled.

Smith is the current bookmakers' favorite to win best actor at February's Oscars, having missed out for his portrayal of boxer Muhammad Ali in Ali, and in The Pursuit of Happyness.

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