If it weren’t for Richard Williams’ iconic shorts in “King Richard,” Will Smith jokes he might not have landed himself piles of trophies this award season.
The Oscar-nominated star gave a special shoutout to Williams’ “red, tight short shorts” during his speech at the National Board of Review gala, where he won best actor.
“With Richard Williams, it was one of those ones where it was taking longer and longer, and as an actor you take a leap of faith. You say, yes, you think you can get it. For Richard Williams — this is not a joke — when I put those shorts on, those red tight short shorts, I was like ‘Ok, I think I can do this here,’” Smith said, slipping back into Williams’ Southern accent as the crowd laughed and cheered. “It gave me an insight into Richard Williams. The clothes that he wore, he had a vision of himself.”
Smith took the stage at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York Tuesday night to accept the honor, where his co-star Aunjanue Ellis also won best supporting actress. They’re both nominated at the Oscars, in addition to best picture, original screenplay, film editing and original song for the Warner Bros. film. Smith has received two previous best actor noms, for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” but a win next Sunday would be the first of his career.
“I’ve never, of all the films I’ve had, this unanimous agreement that the movie’s good,” Smith told reporters before the National Board of Review ceremony. “It does feel good to walk into these places and walk around the streets having a film that’s resonating with people. As an artist, it’s always what I’m hoping to do. This is on another level, I’ve never been here before.”
“The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah presented Smith with his trophy, praising him for making audiences feel real emotions with his portrayal of Richard Williams, the strict but loving father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams.
“He makes you feel what it’s like to be a parent who truly believes with the right nurturing, the right love, the right determination, your children can go on to become two of the greatest athletes who can change the entire world. You can feel what that’s like. Will Smith makes you feel what it’s like to be an imperfect husband who’s trying to build the perfect home. He makes you feel what it’s like to live in a world, where as a Black person you’re going up against something that seems invisible, but at the same time stops you in a very real way. He makes you feel what it’s like. And that’s what makes an actor great. Will Smith has done it time and time again. Whether it’s chasing aliens or living with his rich uncle, it doesn’t matter what it is. He’s done it all,” Noah said.
The other big winners of the night were director Paul Thomas Anderson, his film “Licorice Pizza” and its young stars Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. The group took home best film, director and breakthrough performance, and Haim and Hoffman’s electric onscreen chemistry translated in person.
“There really is no Gary without Alana, and there is no Alana without Gary,” Hoffman said during their acceptance speech. “When we first read the script, there was one line that stuck out to both of us. When Gary and Alana go to dinner for the first time, the line changed a little in the final cut, but it originally said, ‘I’m not gonna forget you, Alana, and you’re not gonna forget me. We’re stuck-together pieces now.’ After shooting, this line means more to us than ever. In life, you never know who you’re going to meet or who’s going to change your life forever. We now know that Paul, Alana and I will forever be stuck-together pieces.”
Their speech melted everyone’s hearts, and later on presenter Chris Rock would’ve melted the bleep button, if the awards were televised, when he gave a hilarious, profanity-laced intro for Anderson’s best director honor.
“National Board of Review, so fuckin’ cheap they don’t have a prompter so people have to read. My GED is gonna flare up,” Rock said as he put on glasses to read his speech. “I’ve come here for Paul Thomas Anderson, a person who’s never cast me in shit. Nothing. Not even to wash his fuckin’ car.”
As the audience cracked up, the comedian took jabs at Haim and Hoffman’s “nepotism” and their co-star Sean Penn, who “has something to do with this war. Somehow, some way I know he’s mixed up in it. Sean Penn’s being waterboarded as we speak.”
However, the power of Smith and “King Richard” couldn’t be stopped, as the actor even stole some of the spotlight during Rock’s presentation for Anderson.
“Did Will Smith show up?” Rock asked, scanning the audience. “He’s fucking great in that movie. Goddamn it, he’s good in that fucking movie. Goddamn it, Will. Fuck you! Fuck you, god he’s good in that movie.”
See the full list of winners below.
Best Film: “Licorice Pizza” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Best Actor: Will Smith, “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
Best Actress: Rachel Zegler, “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)
Best Supporting Actor: Ciarán Hinds, “Belfast” (Focus Features)
Best Supporting Actress: Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple Original Films/A24)
Best Original Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, “A Hero” (Amazon Studios)
Breakthrough Performance: Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, “Licorice Pizza” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Best Directorial Debut: Michael Sarnoski, “Pig” (Neon)
Best Animated Feature: “Encanto” (Walt Disney Pictures)
Best Foreign Language Film: “A Hero” (Amazon Studios) – Iran
Best Documentary: “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” (Searchlight Pictures)
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: “Flee” (Neon & Participant)
Best Ensemble: “The Harder They Fall” (Netflix)
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple Original Films/A24)
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