Cast, crew of “King Richard” share commitment to family, accuracy

Will Smith is Richard Williams in KING RICHARD. Courtesy

Clara McCourt, lifestyle editor

Warner Brothers’ newest film “King Richard” centers the remarkable true story of Richard Williams (Will Smith), father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, training his daughters from the courts of Compton to sports superstardom. Their father’s confidence and mother’s dedication shapes both athletes, providing them with the support needed to succeed against all odds. Co-produced by the Williams sisters themselves, this film tells their inspiring story with true accuracy. 

At a virtual press conference Nov. 7 led by moderator Jacqueline Coley of Rotten Tomatoes, the cast and creative team of “King Richard” discussed the commitment to familial truth they wanted to portray through the story.

Will Smith first found an interest in portraying Richard Williams when he saw a 1995 interview where Richard Williams defended 14-year-old Venus against a journalist questioning her confidence to beat her opponent.

“I knew I wanted to show a father protecting his daughter like that to the world,” Smith said.

Richard Williams taught himself and his entire family to play tennis after watching a female player earn $40,000 for winning a tournament. He created a 78-page plan for his daughters’ tennis careers 一 before they were even born. Williams’ commitment to success inspired producers Tim and Trevor White to pursue this true story.

“We kind of thought about it in terms of ‘this might be the greatest coaching story in the history of sports.’ And what made it really exciting is when we started to kind of dive into their story. It was far beyond a coaching story, it was a story about a family, and a story about love,” Trevor White said.

The producers wanted to tell this story as accurately as possible, and brought on another Williams sister, Isha Price, as a consultant and collaborator. The film’s director Reinaldo Marcus Green said Price frequently visited the set to make corrections.

“I’m so grateful to the Williams family for allowing us to have Isha on set every day, [saying things] like ‘No, they wouldn’t hold the racket like that, I wouldn’t wear that color.’ There’s so many pearls that came from that,” Green said.

Price said that adjusting these small details made the film even more meaningful to her and to the memory of her father.

“It was important for me because I had a responsibility to my family to make sure that the story was told right. And to have willing participants in that journey with this entire cast and production team is why the product ends up being what it is,” Price said.

Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who play young Venus and Serena Williams, respectively, were faced with the challenge of learning to play tennis like the greatest players of a generation. Smith referenced his turn as Muhammad Ali in 2001’s “Ali,” expressing pride in how the young actors were able to adapt.

“I know how daunting that was. There are professional fighters who can’t move and play like Muhammad Ali. There are professional tennis players that can’t play like Venus and Serena. I just want the world to know, not only did Saniyya learn how to play like Venus, Saniyya is left-handed. She learned how to like one of the greatest tennis players of all time with her off hand!” Smith said.

The cast and creative team expressed their willingness to tell this story of achievement in tennis on a massive scale, but also to retain the intimate moments that make the Williams family who they truly are.

“What I really loved about this is that it’s a family film. Even if you don’t understand tennis, you understand family,” Venus Williams said.

“King Richard” will be released in theatres and on HBO Max Nov. 19.