Will Smith knows that fans may be hesitant to see his first movie since slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars.
"I completely understand that," he told Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., in an interview posted to YouTube Nov. 28. "If someone was not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready."
Smith's new movie "Emancipation" opens in theaters Dec. 9 and his "deepest concern" is that his team will get a depressed turnout because of what he did.
"My deepest concern is my team," he told the outlet. "The people on this team have done some of the best work of their entire careers. And my deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team. So at this point, that’s what I’m working for. That’s what I’m hoping for. I’m hoping that the material, the power of the film, the timeliness of the story — I’m hoping that the good that can be done would open people’s hearts, at a minimum, to see and recognize and support the incredible artists in and around this film."
Smith, 54, slapped Rock, 57, while the comedian was presenting an award at the Oscars ceremony on March 27. Rock cracked a joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, being bald due to alopecia. The audience laughed, but Smith charged the stage in deliberate steps, slapped Rock across the face and returned to his seat using the same measured steps.
Smith released his first public apology to Rock the day after the slap amid mounting backlash. Writing on Instagram, in part, Smith said, "I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness."
A week later, Smith took more responsibility for his actions in a statement released April 1 that also included his resignation from membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the time, the organization was investigating the incident and exploring potential disciplinary action. On April 8, it handed down a 10-year suspension from all organization events.
“My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable,” Smith wrote. “The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones, all those in attendance, and global audiences at home.”
Four months after the slap, Smith posted an in-depth video apology to Rock on Instagram.
“I was fogged out by that point,” Smith said in part. “It’s all fuzzy. I’ve reached out to Chris and the message that came back is that he’s not ready to talk and when he is, he will reach out. So I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.”
Rock has performed stand-up routines since the incident. He addressed the controversy most directly on July 24 during his show at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey.
“Anyone who says words hurt has never been punched in the face,” Rock said, later adding, “I’m not a victim. Yeah, that s--- hurt, motherf-----. But I shook that s--- off and went to work the next day. I don’t go to the hospital for a paper cut.”