Queens-maker Richard Williams’ story of penning a 78-page manifesto detailing his plan to ensure his daughters become the professional icons we know them to be today is already well-known. Still, it has never been retold in film format until now. Will Smith was personally chosen by the Williams sisters’ to play their father and puts on a stellar performance as the polarizing figure.
Tasked with bringing the Williams sister’s vision to light was veteran director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men, Gun Hill Road), and he understood the assignment. Cassius Life had the opportunity to speak with Green. We asked him about working with Smith and seeing him transform into Richard Williams in the film, giving what many are saying his best performance since 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness.
Cassius Life: King Richard is generating a lot of buzz already, especially Will Smith’s performance. It’s one thing for us to see it on the screen, but what was it like watching Will Smith transform into Richard Williams behind the camera?
Reinaldo Marcus Green: It was unbelievable, man. Having met Will and being a fan of his work, and then to see him go to work. It was like watching Tom Brady leave the Patriots and then win a championship. That’s what it felt like. It was like, here’s a guy that’s clearly not done has a lot more in the tank, and is just giving everything that he possibly can to this role; clearing the slate for prep, and his preparation is second to none, how he recites lines, how he involves everybody in the process, how generous he is off-screen as he is on-screen.
It was like watching Tom Brady leave the Patriots and then win a championship.
He was an onset dad to those girls, to that whole family, and then surrounding him with our supporting cast; Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn. To see those guys go in there and make something like … It felt like watching LeBron learning to pass. That’s an amazing … That’s dangerous, man, like I could dunk on you, but I could also pass to those guys. That’s amazing. To be part of that process and helping to orchestrate that was wonderful to watch. He’s a true collaborative. He also grew up in the era where you respect the director, so we had a very good relationship. We could talk about what was working and what wasn’t working and how to make it richer. I think that’s a testament to a great partnership, and it’s what you see and what you get in the film.
CL: If you could direct another movie around a sports figure or a sports family, who would it be?
RMG: That’s a good question. I don’t know, man. It’s tough. It’s tough. I’m sure there’s some Michael Jordan something at some point. We’ll see. We’ll see.
When the hairs on my skin rise up, I know we’ve got something special.
CL: Maybe the Ball family?
CL: There are many emotional moments in that film that got tears out of us. The last movie to do that was ironically a Will Smith film (The Pursuit of Happyness). Did you experience that feeling while making this film or after you watched it?
RMG: Yeah, look. Everybody … You’re on set, and you feel those moments. You could feel the weight of the scene before we were shooting it and while we were shooting it. Both Saniyya and Will were like … Everybody was … They were crying, looking at the monitor. If you could feel that being on set, you can only imagine what it was like watching it. You know when you get those chills and when you get those performances. The setting was perfect; the tennis court, the lighting. Everything was so the way it was supposed to be, man. I felt it when I was watching them on set that day. When the hairs on my skin rise up, I know we’ve got something special. You never know what you have until you get into the edit, but I definitely felt like we were in a good place when we started editing the movie.
King Richard arrives in theaters and HBO Max Nov.19.
Photos: Warner Bros./ King Richard