Will Smith Describes ‘Awful’ Oscars Night In ‘The Daily Show’ Interview, Says ‘I Lost My Mind’

After a series of online statements and low-key public appearances in recent months, Will Smith returned to the spotlight on Monday night, appearing for an interview on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” Promoting her new historical drama “Emancipation,” Smith’s conversation with the late-night host naturally delved into the Oscar night controversy, in which she slapped Chris Rock onstage.

“I’ve been away,” Will Smith said, drawing laughter from the crowd when the subject of his absence from the public eye came up. “What have they been doing?”

“That was a horrible night, as you can imagine. It has many nuances and complexities. But at the end of the day, I just… lost it, you know? Smith continued. “I was going through something that night, you know? Not that that justifies my behavior at all… It was a lot of things. It was the little boy who saw his father hit his mother, you know? All of this arose at that moment. That’s not what I want to be.”

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on March 27, 2022. Robyn Beck / AFP – Getty Images

Noah chimed in, offering his own perspective on the situation and recalling the discussions about the controversy he had with his peers.

“I love Chris. I’m friends with him. I love you, but this is fucked up… I know as black people, black people come together and say, ‘What was Will doing? What the hell happened? A lot of blacks were saying, ‘He should go to jail.’ Like, you need to relax,” Noah said, earning a laugh from Smith. “Some people overreacted, which caused some people to underreact.”

Smith shared an anecdote from the aftermath of Oscar night, when she was already dealing with the repercussions of her outburst on her private life.

“I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled up for a long time,” Smith said, “My nephew is nine years old. He is the sweetest little boy. We came home. He had stayed up late to see his Uncle Will and we’re sitting in my kitchen and he’s on my lap and he’s holding the Oscar and he’s like, ‘Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?’ Damn why are you trying Oprah with me?

Smith also spoke about “Emancipation,” sharing the decision-making that led him to the project. Based on true events, the film casts Smith as a runaway slave who becomes known to the world as “Whipped Peter” after widely distributed photographs of keloid scars on his back expose the extreme brutality of slavery.

“Seeing that image for the first time was one of the things that really excited me to explore this, because you see the image, but you don’t know who it is. You don’t know what the story is,” Smith said. “American slavery was one of the most brutal aspects of human history… It is difficult to understand the level of human cruelty. My daughter asked me, ‘Dad, do we really need another slave movie?’ I said, ‘Baby, I promise you, I wouldn’t make a slave movie. This is a freedom movie.’”

In a recent interview with vanity fairDirector Antoine Fuqua touched on the decision to release “Emancipation” eight months after Smith’s Oscar controversy, saying “the movie to me is bigger than that moment.”

“400 Years a Slave is bigger than a moment,” Fuqua said. “My hope is that people will see it that way and watch the movie and be swept away by Will’s great performance and all the really hard work that the whole team put in.”

“Emancipation” will debut in select theaters this Friday before premiering on Apple TV+ on December 9.