Nov 29, 2022

Will Smith gives first mainstream interview since “The Slap”, discusses the Oscars and “Emancipation” Transcript

Will Smith gives first mainstream interview since "The Slap", discusses the Oscars and "Emancipation" Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsEmancipationWill Smith gives first mainstream interview since “The Slap”, discusses the Oscars and “Emancipation” Transcript

Will Smith discusses playing one of the most famous unknown people from American history in “Emancipation”, and how he’s spent the last year since the Oscars’ incident. Read the transcript here.

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Trevor Noah (00:00):

Mr. Will Smith. Welcome back to The Daily Show.

Will Smith (00:03):

Kind sir.

Trevor Noah (00:04):

How are you?

Will Smith (00:05):

I am so good. I flew 30 hours to be here with you.

Trevor Noah (00:08):

Where were you?

Will Smith (00:08):

In Bhutan.

Trevor Noah (00:11):

What are you doing there?

Will Smith (00:11):

Bhutan. The Nat Geo show.

Trevor Noah (00:15):

So you’re traveling around the world.

Will Smith (00:18):

Traveling around the world to just finding the secrets of life.

Trevor Noah (00:21):

And are you finding them?

Will Smith (00:23):

No, not yet. Not yet.

Trevor Noah (00:23):

Yeah, because we’ve seen you everywhere. I mean, you’ve been everywhere in the world. Like you say Bhutan, you traveled the Middle East and Africa and where are you going next, South Pole?

Will Smith (00:32):

South Pole, yes.

Trevor Noah (00:33):

That’s a real thing?

Will Smith (00:33):


Trevor Noah (00:35):

But why?

Will Smith (00:35):


Trevor Noah (00:36):

Yeah. What are you hoping to discover there? That Black people don’t like the cold? Why are you there, Will?

Will Smith (00:44):

The show is, I don’t know if I’m supposed to be announcing it yet, but the show’s called Pole to Pole. We’re going from the South Pole to the North Pole and all the stops along the way. It’s called Other People’s Wisdom, so we’re seeking the wisdom. There are people who live at the South Pole, they’re researchers. We’re going there, we’re going to talk to them.

Trevor Noah (01:04):

All the scientists.

Will Smith (01:04):

All the scientists.

Trevor Noah (01:06):

Basically say like the world’s knowledge is stored din the South Pole essentially.

Will Smith (01:09):

Yes, absolutely.

Trevor Noah (01:11):


Will Smith (01:11):

You’re making me cry already.

Trevor Noah (01:12):

When you talking about the South Pole?

Will Smith (01:20):

Yeah, I’m talking about… The South Pole is just such a… When I think about all that cold.

Trevor Noah (01:24):

I’m surprised you were awake, man.

Will Smith (01:26):

The guy who discovered the South Pole is named Will Smith.

Trevor Noah (01:30):

For real?

Will Smith (01:30):

Yep, that’s true.

Trevor Noah (01:32):

You said that so I don’t even know if you’re lying right now.

Will Smith (01:34):

No, no.

Trevor Noah (01:35):

You said that’s so convincingly.

Will Smith (01:37):

No, it’s true. It’s true. Somebody can Google it. Somebody can Google it.

Trevor Noah (01:40):

I’ll just believe you. You’re traveling around the world. Emancipation. I just watched it. I mean, it’s so hard to describe movies like this because people see it in the clip, but you play one of the most famous unknown people surprisingly, and you know what I mean from America’s history. A man whose picture went around the world that basically showed many people who didn’t know innately how brutal slavery was. Let’s talk about this, first of all. Emancipation is not the kind of film we would expect to see you in immediately as Will Smith. Why this project? Why get into this story and why this story in particular?

Will Smith (02:22):

When I read this script, man, it’s like you’ve probably seen the image. It’s of a Black man and it’s his back and his arm. He’s sitting, so it’s a pretty famous picture.

Trevor Noah (02:37):

I think we have that image. I think it’s one of the famous ones.

Will Smith (02:41):

It’s that image. First seeing that image was one of the things that really got me excited to explore this because you see the image, but you don’t know who he is. You don’t know what the story is. Then as I started to do the research, and American slavery was one of the most brutal aspects of human history. It was something that was so incomprehensible. It’s hard to understand the level of human cruelty. The screenplay was spectacular. Antoine Fuqua just, he did his thing on this, man.

Trevor Noah (03:34):

It’s gripping the whole way through. I’ll tell you that much. It’s scary. It is gripping. It’s not glamorizing because it is the story of how the union is moving. People start hearing whispers of Lincoln has declared that slavery is abolished. He’s freed the slaves. But then you see how many people haven’t received that news. You see how that news doesn’t change everybody’s lives overnight.

Will Smith (03:59):

The Emancipation was January 1st and slaves weren’t free until June 19th. The period of Emancipation-

Trevor Noah (04:10):

1865, I think.

Will Smith (04:11):

Yeah, 1865. January 1st, slaves were free, but the South refused to allow the slaves to be free. The enslaved people started trying to run to get to Lincoln’s army, in Baton Rouge is where Lincoln’s army was from this place in Louisiana. It’s about that period where the slaves were free, but they weren’t being freed. It is a beautiful, beautiful movie. My daughter asked me, she’s like, “Daddy, do we really need another slave movie?” When I was thinking about it and I was like, I said, “Baby, I promise you, I wouldn’t make a slave movie. This is a freedom movie.”

Trevor Noah (04:55):

Oh wow. It is interesting that you say that because the story, one of my favorite lines in the movie is when, I think it’s one of the… He’s leading one of the battalions and he talks to your character. He’s like a general commando and he says to your character, he says, “I was born free.” He says, “We’re allowed to own houses. We were allowed to do this. We’re allowed. We’re allowed.” And your character says to him.

Will Smith (05:24):

If someone must allow you to do it, are you really free? This film, what’s really interesting about it is it centers on faith and the power of faith to be able to endure anything. This character is just what he had to endure and what he had to survive. Only God could make a man. When you look at those marks on his back, only God could make that possible.

He talks about a period in doing the research, he talks about he was whipped into a coma and he was in a coma for three months. He said that he met God while he was in the coma. When he came out, he believed in a way that he had never believed before. I learned the difference between faith and revelation. Faith is one thing, when you have to have faith… I’m not crying to it. My eyes, I just got tired. I got airplane eyes, I got airplane eyes.

Trevor Noah (06:42):

Yeah, you’ve been on a plane for 30 hours.

Will Smith (06:43):

I’ve got airplane eyes, but the difference between faith and revelation that he walked in the world with a knowledge of the divine, with a knowledge of God. That was just something I’ve desperately wanted to understand and explore.

Trevor Noah (07:01):

I mean, you watched the film, you wonder… It’s one of those movies where you watch it and you go, “This is harrowing, this is gripping, this is… It’s wild. It seems unbelievable.” Then you see the images of the real person and your mind cannot comprehend that it was possible for this to happen to a human being and that they actually exist.

It’s a story that goes beyond everything and I’d love to know in the telling of the story, beyond faith, beyond revelation, what is the biggest thing you took away from it? Because it’s interesting, I get what your daughter was saying, “Do we need another slave movie?” I understand what you’re saying about it being a freedom movie, but I feel like each story has a different lesson, because it’s a movement. It’s a revolution. It’s a quest for freedom. What do you think was the biggest lesson you took away from this story?

Will Smith (07:48):

I think that as an actor, anytime you go into these characters and you go this deep into these roles, it changes something about you. You understand something that you didn’t understand before. I guess the major thing that came through for me with Peter is the power of the direction of love. He’s trying to get back to his family and that comprehension of love and how love actually is a superpower, when you can fill your heart with that kind of love, it’s a propulsion that is unlike any other thing. It’s stronger than fear. It’s stronger than hate. It’s stronger than tired. It’s like when you can really latch into and fill your heart with love in a way, it really is shield and armor unlike anything that exists.

Trevor Noah (08:55):

I love that. That’s beautiful. It really is. Congrats again. Congrats on the movie. Great seeing you again. It’s been a while since I last saw you. It’s been a while since many people have seen you.

Will Smith (09:09):

I’ve been away. What y’all been doing? Thank you baby.

Trevor Noah (09:19):

I can only imagine what it’s been like for you because it has been weird for many of us. You’re Will Smith. No, you are. You’re Will Smith. You are one of the biggest movie stars that has ever existed, one of my favorite people that I’ve ever seen inhabit a screen.

Will Smith (09:39):

Thank you, man.

Trevor Noah (09:41):

Then you had the Oscars where in one night you-

Will Smith (09:45):

I have no independent recollection of the-

Trevor Noah (09:48):

I can only imagine because you won your first Oscar that night, well deserved Oscar that night. But it is simultaneously, in many ways, not the worst, I won’t say the worst because I know the life you’ve lived. I’ve read the book. But it is one of the best days of your life and one of the worst days of your life. I’d love to know, I mean, just us talking, first of all, what has the journey been like since that day? Because everyone speculates, everyone just sees it and goes, “I think this. I think that. I think this. I think that.” What has it been like for you?

Will Smith (10:24):

That was a horrific night as you can imagine. There’s many nuances and complexities to it, but at the end of the day, I lost it. I guess what I would say, you just never know what somebody’s going through. In the audience right now, you’re sitting next to strangers and somebody’s mother died last week. Somebody’s child is sick. Somebody just lost their job. Somebody just found out their spouse cheated.

There’s all these things and they’re strangers and you just don’t know what’s going on with people. I was going through something that night, and not that that justifies my behavior at all. I would just say, you’re asking what did I learn, and it’s that we just got to be nice to each other, man. It’s hard. I guess the thing that was most painful for me is I took my heart and made it hard for other people. It’s like I understood the idea where they say hurt people hurt people.

Trevor Noah (12:02):

It’s interesting. I remember again, everybody was speculating and one of my friends called me and we’re talking and everyone’s got these opinions. Then someone said, “I feel like we saw the real Will Smith in that moment because there’s a guy who’s so full of love and so positive, but I feel like in that moment, we saw the real Will Smith.” I said, and not because I know you, but I said honestly, I said, “No. If anything, I feel like it was the opposite.” You talk in your book about growing up so afraid of conflict. You grow up in your book talking about how you were always afraid to fight with, how you were afraid to… For me, it felt like in watching that moment, I felt like you were like… In a weird way, it’s like you stood up for the wrong thing at the wrong time in a way.

Will Smith (12:47):


Trevor Noah (12:47):

Do you know what I’m saying? It felt like you’d taken everything. Because here we are, human to human, man to man, but people have said some shitty things about you and your family.

Will Smith (12:57):


Trevor Noah (12:58):

You’re a human being. It felt like, and I would say this to people, I was like, “It’s becoming relentlessly shitty now.” People think it’s okay. That’s the thing. People think it’s okay. Not Chris, by the way, I’m talking about people, the internet, et cetera. But it felt like this was Will Smith for the first time going, “Is this how you want me to respond or not?”

Will Smith (13:21):

It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother. All of that just bubbled up in that moment. That’s not who I want to be. You’ve known me for a long time, so you know me personally, so you know. But y’all might not know. That’s not who I want to be, man. I’m trying to put-

Trevor Noah (13:54):

I also think that’s not who you are. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think it’s not who you are. I think everybody can make a mistake. I think, in my honest opinion, I think how I think of living my life as I say-

Will Smith (14:09):

Now I’m crying for real.

Trevor Noah (14:16):

But I mean his honestly. I’ll tell you why, but I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you why because on my side as a human being, I go, the reason it was shocking is because that’s not who you are. Does that make sense?

Will Smith (14:26):


Trevor Noah (14:28):

I saw, for instance, there was an article that was written, I think it was a Hollywood report or whatever, they had a list of problematic actors or whatever. I was personally offended for you and Letitia funny enough for a different reason, but they had you guys on a list where I was like, “Wait, some of these people are here for sleeping with underage kids. These people are here for abusing their spouses.” Again, what you did was (beep). I always tell you that. I love Chris, I’m friends with him. I love you. I’m friends with you, but I was like, this is (beep), but I was like, but it’s not the same world. That’s where it was weird, especially I find, because there were all these dynamics. I know that as Black people, Black people would be together and be like, “What was Will doing? What the hell happened here?” But then, I know a lot of Black people were like, people came out and they were like, “He should go to jail.” We were like, “You need to relax yourself.” Some people were overreacting, which made some people underreact.

Will Smith (15:22):

I understand how shocking that was for people, man. On that stage-

Trevor Noah (15:30):

Were you shocked? You seemed a little dazed afterwards, I’m not going to lie.

Will Smith (15:32):

I was gone, dude. I was gone. I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time, but I understand the pain. It was my nephew Dom is nine and he is the sweetest little boy. We came home and it’s like he had stayed up late to see his uncle Will. We’re sitting in my kitchen and he’s on my lap and he’s holding the Oscar and he’s just like, “Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?” Damn it. Why you trying to Oprah me?

Trevor Noah (16:22):

No, I’m not. He’s sitting on your lap.

Will Smith (16:36):

I was like… It was a mess. I don’t want to go too far into it to give people more or to misunderstand stuff.

Trevor Noah (16:44):

Is it hard? You have lived, I realized this morning when I was thinking about you coming on the show, you are one of the rare breed of human who has lived more of your life in the spotlight than out of it. You got into this industry as a kid, you grew up and blew up into it as a young man, you had your tax issues, you had your life, you had your family, but you have lived in this world for… It is funny, again, I realize chatting to friends and I was like, “You know what’s interesting here is for us, this is the Oscars.”

For Will Smith, this is like a cookout. I’m not diminishing the Oscars, but I know those are your people. That’s your world. This is like this. I was saying, I think that is part of the reason many of us were that, because you go like, it’s this lauded event. It’s bigger than life. Whereas many movie stars at the Oscars are like, “Oh, nice to see you again. Hey, good to be here, good to be back.” I feel like that that was part of the disconnect. I feel like that was part of-

Will Smith (17:42):

The one thing that’s killing me, so Emancipation is Antoine’s masterpiece.

Trevor Noah (17:50):

That’s what I want to ask you about.

Will Smith (17:51):

He has created an absolute masterpiece. Bob Richardson, the DP and Ben Foster, and just all the way down, it’s like these top artists in the world have done some of the best work of their career and the idea that they might be denied because of me. That is killing me dead. It’s like the thing that is so critical for me is that these people came and they trusted me and they were down for me. I hope that their work will be honored and their work will not be tainted based on a horrific decision on my part.

Trevor Noah (18:47):

I honestly hope, and I don’t think that that’ll happen. I have conversations with people all the time about really restorative justice.

Will Smith (18:59):

Really? You have conversations with people?

Trevor Noah (19:03):

But about restorative justice, about atonement, we have them at the highest levels often. What I realize is we often don’t have these conversations as they pertain to daily life. What somebody says, what somebody does, and especially in isolation, that’s why I say the sum of a person is oftentimes how I define them as opposed to a moment. On a personal level, I think I speak for many people if I don’t forgive me, but obviously people were hurt because we love you and we love what you do. People were shocked because it’s Will Smith, it’s Chris Rock, Oscars, all these things, but I also think, I speak for people when I say, “I don’t want that to define you. I don’t think it should define you.” You know what I mean?

Will Smith (19:50):

Thank you.

Trevor Noah (19:53):

I don’t think anyone of us in life deserves to be defined by our (beep) the (beep). If anything, I mean, you and Chris have the biggest story to handle on your own. It’s not our foray. But man, I hope you don’t stay hidden forever. I hope you know that you don’t always have to bottle it up. I hope you know that you not being perfect is what’ll make you… You’re Will Smith, man. Do you know what I mean? You’re that dude. We love you for real. You’re that dude.

Will Smith (20:28):

I think that was one of the big things for me over this last couple of months that I had to forgive myself for being human. It’s like, trust me, there’s nobody that hates the fact that I’m human more than me.

Trevor Noah (20:44):

Yeah, I know that. No, but I know that.

Will Smith (20:49):

Just finding that space for myself within myself to be human. I’ve always wanted to be Superman. I’ve always wanted to swoop in and save the damsel in distress. I had to humble down and realize that I’m a flawed human and I still have an opportunity to go out in the world and contribute in a way that fills my heart and hopefully helps other people.

Trevor Noah (21:35):

Thank you for being here. I appreciate it. Thank you, man.

Will Smith (21:35):

[inaudible 00:21:41] all right now.

Trevor Noah (21:35):

Talk to you soon.

Will Smith (21:35):

Thank you all.

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