Tyler Perry reluctantly opened up today about Will Smith’s Oscar slap of Chris Rock, saying that he “left early to get to Chris to make sure he was okay” but felt empathy for Smith too.
In a Q&A with Gayle King at the Tribeca Festival, he took issue with media reports that he had comforted Smith — who sprinted up to Rock and belted him for joking about wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head.
“There is a difference between comforting and de-escalating,” Perry told King in response to her prodding on the slap in the midst of a sweeping conversation about his life and career.
“My only problem with it is this. If I talk about it, then it becomes overshadowing of everything else we talked about. That will be the headline for sure,” Perry told King, when she asked if Smith would keep his namesake soundstage at Tyler Perry Studios. Perry named each of the 12 stages after someone he admires.
“We can make another headline,” she joked. “I am pregnant with Tyler’s child. That’s the headline.”
Once launched, Perry continued: “I was there, close up. I left early to go and check on Chris because it was wrong in no uncertain terms and I made sure I said that to Will.”
He said Smith, who has been banned from the Oscar ceremony for ten years, “was devastated. He couldn’t believe what happened. He couldn’t believe he did it. And I’m looking at this man, in his eyes going, ‘What are you doing? This is your night… And to get all this way to winning an Oscar. It was one of the crowning moments of his career that he wanted so desperately.”
Smith won the Academy Award for Best Actor for King Richard.
“I think he is very much in reflection, trying to figure out what happened,” Perry said. He alluded to a section of Smith’s recent memoir ‘Will’ that he said talks about the actor “not being able to protect his mother at eight years old.”
“I know that feeling…. And if that trauma is not dealt with right away as you get older, it will show up in the most inappropriate and horrible times,” Perry said.
Being friends with both Rock and Smith, the situation “was very difficult.”
Rock “was a pure champion the way he handled it. But “something happened that was extremely painful for [Smith] as well. It’s no excuse, he was completely wrong, but something triggered. That was so out of everything he is.”
“I feel very uncomfortable. I don’t feel it is my story to tell,” he said.
Perry, the Madea creator, prolific film and television writer, director, actor and the studio chief of his 330-acre Atlanta complex, talked a bit about trauma in his own family growing up in New Orleans and how he overcame it, starting his career with a play called ‘I Know I’ve Been Changed’ about adult survivors of abuse. He held lots of odd jobs and slept in his car at one point before finding success and ultimately becoming the first Black studio owner and one of most influential African American creators and businessmen in the nation.
He said his drive and his success come in large part from an unwavering commitment to his core audience. “Crossover means what are you going to do to make white people like you? What are you going to do to be more mainstream? I always rejected that,” he said, “You come over here to see what we are doing.”
Perry noted that his annual payroll this year and last is about $154 million “that’s going 99% to Black people.”
He’s got a huge body of work and prizes efficiency, slamming directors who don’t but arrive on set to say, “‘Hmm, I think I want to try to move the light this way, and have you come over here.’ I am like, ‘Work all that shit out at your house.”
“I will do one take, but have three cameras rolling at once, and as I am shooting, I am editing in my head,” he said. “From the time you walk on set, the money is burning.”
“The waste we spend in Hollywood, we could run a small country,” he said.
Tyler Perry Was “De-Escalating” Not Comforting Will Smith After Oscars Slap – Tribeca Festival