Netflix yesterday unveiled an episode of its talk show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction taped prior to the 2022 Oscars, which saw disgraced actor Will Smith sit down with former late-night host David Letterman to discuss his 2021 memoir Will, his Oscar-winning King Richard role, “pain” stemming from his childhood and more.
The interview saw Smith reference the first line from his memoir by admitting that he’s always thought of himself as “a coward,” given a traumatic experience at age nine. It was at this point in his life that he watched his mother get beat up by his father without stepping in.
Smith said that processing life experiences like this via the writing of his memoir “unlocked” a part of him, “as an actor,” that is unlike anything he’s experienced. “Life is so exciting to me right now because I can reach people differently than I’ve ever been able to reach people, largely because of my pain,” he explained, of the benefit in leaning into difficult feelings. “I’m really ready to dive into my heart in a way that I think will be hopefully fulfilling for me and helpful for the human family.”
Several of Smith’s comments and interactions with Letterman on My Next Guest registered differently than they might have, had his Oscar controversy not so recently unfolded. At one point in the episode, Letterman references his mother, with the actor responding jokingly, “Don’t say nothing about my mother, Dave.”
Smith speaks at another moment about his boxing training for the film Ali before demonstrating punching form. “Show me that, but don’t hit me,” jokes Letterman. “Jesus, that was frightening. Don’t do that again.”
Then, there’s a moment in which Smith observes that “you can’t protect your family.
“Protection and safety is an illusion. You have to learn to live with the reality that any moment, anything can be gone in one second,” he said. “So with that reality, how can you be here? And how can you be joyful and be here?”
Smith made international headlines back in March when he stormed the Oscars stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock, after the comic made a joke at the expense of his wife, Jada Pinkett. Making matters more surreal was the fact that the actor returned to the Oscars stage later in the night to accept his first statuette for his turn in Warner Bros.’ tennis drama, King Richard. He later apologized for his actions via Instagram, calling them “unacceptable and inexcusable,” and resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Film Academy then banned Smith from attending Oscars ceremonies and other Academy functions for the next 10 years.
Smith’s My Next Guest appearance was prefaced with the disclaimer: “This episode was filmed prior to the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony.” Other guests appearing on the show’s fourth season, which is now available for streaming in its entirety on Netflix, include Billie Eilish, Cardi B, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Durant and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.