A year following the notorious incident that sent shockwaves through the industry, Will Smith is gearing up for a return to the acting scene. Despite maintaining a relatively low profile in the past 12 months since the incident involving the slap directed at presenter Chris Rock during last year’s Oscars ceremony, Smith is now preparing for his first acting project since the widely publicized event that dominated global headlines and continues to fuel ongoing discussions. Insider information suggests that Smith is focused on rebuilding his commercial reputation and is set to film both Sony’s “Bad Boys 4” and Netflix’s “Fast and Loose” consecutively.
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This approach represents a shift from his recent film endeavors, such as Warner Bros.’ “King Richard” and Apple’s “Emancipation,” which were perceived as contenders for the awards season rather than mainstream studio blockbusters. Although “King Richard” achieved modest success at the box office with $39 million worldwide, it fell short of Smith’s overall earnings, including backend profits ($40 million). Smith’s compensation soared when Warner Bros. chose to release “King Richard” in theaters simultaneously with its HBO Max debut, and the studio opted to grant the actor his full bonus as a gesture of goodwill for the alteration in distribution plans.
Despite the film’s modest box office performance, “King Richard” secured Will Smith the coveted Best Actor Oscar, a distinction that eluded “Emancipation,” leading to no Oscar nominations, including one for Best Actor, despite Smith’s $35 million payday.
However, in the aftermath of the controversial incident, industry executives were wary of reengaging with Smith, despite his status as one of the biggest stars in the business. “Everyone was waiting to see who would blink first,” reveals a high-ranking executive from a major studio, expressing reluctance to collaborate with Smith at this moment. The hesitation is not solely about the incident itself but rather how Smith handled the aftermath.
This sentiment aligns with the prevailing opinion in the industry that Smith’s image might have fared better if he had been removed from the ceremony after the altercation with Chris Rock, instead of returning to his seat, accepting the Best Actor Oscar, delivering a speech, and later being seen dancing at the Vanity Fair party while singing along to his rap hit, “Gettin Jiggy Wit It.” The prevailing thought, however, was that time would eventually soften attitudes. While the public appeared to move past the shocking incident, the news cycle surged back to life following Chris Rock’s March 4 live Netflix comedy special, “Selective Outrage,” which sharply criticized Smith and his family.
Undoubtedly, the slap temporarily affected Smith’s highly sought-after status. A month before the Rock incident, Netflix approved “Fast and Loose,” but the studio suspended the project in the aftermath of the slap. Sources indicate that Netflix only gave the green light to proceed with the high-budget action thriller, centered around the leader of a criminal organization experiencing memory loss from an attack, after Sony approved “Bad Boys 4.”
According to an insider familiar with the negotiations, Netflix was not eager to be the first studio to re-enter into business with Will Smith.
For those seeking a discounted deal by associating with a star whose reputation has been tarnished, they might need to explore other options. Despite a lukewarm reception in Hollywood post-slap, Smith, represented by CAA, continues to command one of the highest paychecks in the industry. Sources reveal that Smith is securing his $25 million fee for both “Bad Boys 4” and “Fast and Loose.”
Throughout the past year, Smith has predominantly stayed away from the public eye, except for meticulously orchestrated appearances to promote “Emancipation.” However, he did make a discreet appearance at the August wedding of Adil El Arbi, the director of “Bad Boys 4,” in Morocco. El Arbi recounts that Smith provided solace when he and co-director Bilall Fallah learned that their nearly completed movie, “Batgirl,” was scrapped by Warner Bros. Discovery as a cost-cutting measure, ensuring the film would never see the light of day for a tax write-off.
Reflecting on the incident, El Arbi shares, “It was two days after the wedding, and Will Smith was there. He was like, ‘What’s happening? Oh my God,’ and he said, ‘Really, don’t worry about it. Just one tip. Don’t go on social media.'”