Richard Williams deserves a bulk of the credit when grooming his daughters Venus and Serena into professional tennis superstars. Still, he did get some help along the way.
In the film King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and starring Will Smith as the polarizing and outright determined father figure, we revisit Venus Williams’ rise to fame through her dad’s eyes. It’s no secret Williams got help from his then-wife, Oracene Price (Aunjanue Ellis), whose presence and influence were instrumental in the Williams sister’s success.
Williams also had to rely on the help of two very successful tennis coaches, Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal). Cassius Life spoke with Goldwyn, who replaced actor Liev Schreiber who got the role initially. We asked Goldwyn if he applied the same level of determination Richard Williams did to accomplish a goal he set during our conversation. We also spoke about working with Will Smith and seeing him transform into Richard Williams, his favorite moment in the film, and what sports figure’s story he would like to see turned into a movie.
Step into the interview below.
Cassius Life: Richard Williams was very determined to get his daughters into the world of tennis. Was there anything in your life where you were just as determined as Richard Williams to get done? Was there any way you followed a roadmap for yourself that you put in place, and you didn’t let anyone or anything change that roadmap?
Any determination that I have had in my life doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of determination that Richard Williams had in his.
Tony Goldwyn: Well, look, let me just start by saying. Any determination that I have had in my life doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of determination that Richard Williams had in his. I mean, what he did was just extraordinary. That said, yeah, I mean, I wanted to do something that seemed impossible and being an actor and an artist, you know what I mean? And it literally seemed impossible. And along the way, starting with a high school teacher who told me I should keep going with this passion that I had, to points along the way when I thought it was going to be impossible. That was that one person I looked up to who said, keep going. And I got the best advice I’ve ever gotten as a young person facing what did seem to me to be a completely impossible goal. And I had no idea how I would ever achieve it.
It was my brother-in-law, and he said he was older. He happened to be a jazz musician. And he said I told myself when I was your age that I had no idea if I could do what I wanted to do. But if I committed a hundred percent to my dream and never let up and just committed, I’d either achieve that or it would lead me to someplace that I don’t even know about, but I would never be the person who said, “Oh man, if I’d only tried, maybe I could have done it.” He said, “You don’t want to be that guy.” And that inspired me and stuck with me in the darkest of times that I was like, well, I don’t know if I can do this, but I made a commitment. So I’m going to go. I’m going to put a hundred percent in until I see the light.
And I felt like that’s the tiniest sliver of the ingredients that the Williams family had because they just did not say, no just wasn’t, impossible was not in their vernacular. I heard Venus say, why waste energy on doubt? You just have to believe in yourself and believe. And I think that that, because of her dad’s determination, but her mom’s determination and the love of that family and the way that it, this became like a spiritual family project to put Venus and Serena over the top and to achieve this vision that their dad had about them. So yeah, I’ve felt something like that, but this story, it’s incredible, what people are going to see that I think a lot of people just don’t know.
I heard Venus say, “why waste energy on doubt?”
CL: Agreed. Now you did an exceptional job as Paul Cohen in the film. Everyone was on point in the movie, but of course, Will Smith’s performance as Richard is garnering a lot of buzz. What was it like seeing him transform into Richard Williams and having scenes with Will? What was that like for you?
TG: It was amazing. I think everybody knows Will Smith’s, the sort of exuberance and passion and joy and playfulness that everybody who is a fan of his adores about him. That’s who he is. Right. So he brings that into every work environment. But what he did with Richard, when we’d be working, is he’d be like bringing all of this energy to the set as sort of our leader, right. And creates a work environment.
But then he’d kind of slide into playing Richard when we’d start rehearsing or certainly when we were shooting, and it had all that life force that is Will Smith. And yet what he does, the transformation to become Richard Williams with that, it’s a completely different quality that would come into him, and he just slid into it seamlessly. It was kind of magical to watch and really fun and exciting to play with, to be with him in that. It’s like, not to have a bad kind of comparison, but it really is like being with a world-class athlete who you just, they start hitting that ball and you’re like, wow, okay. This is how we’re playing.
CL: Amazing. He did an amazing job. It was brilliant to watch. There were many moments in the film that, we can’t lie had tears coming out our eyes, and we were like, wow. And it’s kind of funny that this is like the second movie to only do that to us. And the first one was a Will Smith film. It was Pursuit of Happyness.
TG: Pursuit of Happyness. Yeah. Right. I love that movie.
CL: If you’ve seen the movie, what was your favorite moment from the film?
TG: Yeah, my favorite moment of the movie, there’s so many because as you said, I felt the same way of crying and I went to a screening for me and my daughter who’s in her twenties, and she was crying from the beginning to the end. Like she knew nothing about the story. But for me, there’s an incredible scene between Will and Aunjanue Ellis, who plays their mom, Oracene. And she really was the glue, and, as much as he might have been the visionary, she was the one that really held that family together and kept everything, the trains on the tracks in a way. And there’s a scene where she calls him out and holds him to account and says, you did not do this alone. And it’s a scene between a husband and a wife that both is filled with love, but it also just felt so emotionally honest.
And it’s what made the movie, to me, I was like, oh, this isn’t just an aspirational, inspirational story. This is an honest portrayal of the highs and lows and the dark and the light. And it just had real grit, which I think is what this movie has. It doesn’t sugarcoat what it takes to be a family that hangs together. Anyway, that scene to me just blew my mind. You mentioned how great Will’s performance is. Aunjanue Ellis is so brilliant in this movie too.
I was so moved by their stuff together.
CL: Yeah. She was brilliant. We loved her performance in the movie. Now, what other sports family or prominent sports figure would you like to see their story adapted into a film, and if you can be in one, what would it be?
TG: Wow. You know, a friend of mine mentioned doing a story about the early 20th-century football player, Jim Thorpe, who was a Native American. He was a master of so many sports and had a very, very difficult life and dealt with so many different kinds of discrimination and overcame so many obstacles and had sort of a tragic story ultimately, but was really perceived, I think in the early part of the 20th-century, as the greatest athlete who ever lived. And people don’t know who Jim Thorpe was really. And I think that would be an incredible story to tell.
King Richard is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.