One year after the slap that shook the industry, Will Smith is getting ready to return to acting.
While the “Men in Black” star has kept a mostly low profile in the 12 months since slapping presenter Chris Rock at last year’s Oscars ceremony, he is now prepping for his first acting gig since the incident that sparked headlines around the world and a still-simmering news cycle. Sources say Smith is looking to reestablish his commercial bona fides and is poised to shoot Sony’s “Bad Boys 4“ and Netflix’s “Fast and Loose” back to back.
That strategy would mark a pivot from his last two movies — Warner Bros.’ “King Richard” and Apple’s “Emancipation” — which were viewed as awards-season plays rather than studio tentpoles. Although “King Richard” drummed up moderate box-office business ($39 million worldwide), it earned less than Smith’s ultimate payday including back-end ($40 million). Smith’s paycheck ballooned after Warner Bros. decided to release “King Richard” in theaters at the same time it debuted on HBO Max, with the studio opting to give the star his full bonus as a make-good for the change in distribution plans.
But even if the film’s ticket sales were mediocre, “King Richard” did bring Smith the best actor Oscar trophy, unlike “Emancipation,” which failed to earn any Oscar nominations, including one for best actor despite Smith’s $35 million pay day.
But post-slap, studio executives were hesitant to jump back into business with Smith despite being one of the industry’s biggest stars. “Everyone was waiting to see who would blink first,” says one high-ranking executive at a major studio, who is reluctant to work with Smith just yet. “It isn’t so much what he did, it was what he did after.”
That aligns with prevailing wisdom in town that Smith would have been better off he’d been kicked out the ceremony after charging the stage and striking Rock rather than returning to his seat, accepting his best actor Oscar, giving a speech and then dancing at the Vanity Fair party, where he was captured on video singing along to his rap hit, “Gettin Jiggy Wit It.” The thought, however, was that time would soften attitudes. While the public had seemed to move on from Smith’s shocking moment, the news cycle kicked back into high gear following Rock’s March 4 live Netflix comedy special “Selective Outrage,” which eviscerated Smith and his family.
The slap definitely dinged Smith’s uber-in-demand status, at least temporarily. One month before the Rock incident, Netflix green lit “Fast and Loose,” but the studio put the project on pause following the slap. Sources say Netflix only decided to move forward with the big-budget action thriller about the leader of a criminal organization who suffers memory loss from an attack, after Sony green lit “Bad Boys 4.”
“Netflix definitely wasn’t willing to be the first studio to get back into business with Will,” says one source familiar with the dealmaking.
Those looking for a bargain by getting into business with a tarnished star should look elsewhere. While the CAA-repped Smith has received a tepid reception in Hollywood post-slap, he remains one of the highest-paid movie stars. Sources say Smith is getting his $25 million quote on both “Bad Boys 4” and “Fast and Loose.”
Meanwhile, Smith has mostly stayed out of the public eye over the past year outside of highly choreographed appearances to promote “Emancipation.” He did, however, pop up quietly at one event: the August wedding of “Bad Boys 4” director Adil El Arbi in Morocco. El Arbi says Smith was able to offer some comfort when he and co-director Bilall Fallah learned that their nearly finished movie “Batgirl” had been scrapped by Warner Bros. Discovery in a cost-cutting measure. The film will never be released so the company can get a tax write-off.
“It was two days after the wedding, and Will Smith was there. He was like, ‘What’s happening? Oh my God,’” El Arbi tells Variety. “And he said, ‘Really, don’t worry about it. Just one tip. Don’t go on social media.’”