Richard Williams fought long and hard to cross racial barriers and coach his two daughters to be the acclaimed tennis champions they are today. His story will finally be brought to the forefront in King Richard, a new film starring Will Smith.
Ahead of the movie’s release in November, Smith opened up in his recent GQ profile on how Serena Williams helped to prepare him to portray her father.
“My dad was and still is way before his time,” Serena Williams told Smith in an email. “You see, when someone is different—when they don’t act or look how a person assumed they would—the first reaction is often fear. They think, How do we break them? My dad anticipated that, but he would not allow himself or his family to be broken.”
Richard Williams coached his daughters by collecting the used tennis balls from the tennis clubs he couldn’t get into. Williams was way ahead of his time when he raised his two daughters in LA’s city of Compton during the crime-stricken ’80s and ’90s, helping to push them to become world-renowned athletes.
As athletic stars like tennis champion Naomi Osaka and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles help introduce conversations around the mental health of athletes to mainstream media, Williams was advocating for his daughters decades ago by protecting them from the media.
It was this fatherly mindset that Smith tapped into when playing Williams onscreen.
“Richard Williams is a lot like my father,” Smith said. “So when I first read [the script], I understood what it’s like to want your kids to succeed. I had done it a little bit with my kids. I understood what it was to try to mold a young mind, how it’s different with sons than it is with daughters.”
Check out the video clip of Smith in action as Richard Williams.