Serena Williams is not a woman who is easily caught off-balance. But when she sits down with sister Venus and screen parent Will Smith to reflect on the making of King Richard — the bighearted Warner Bros. biopic that chronicles the ’90s-era forging of tennis’ greatest-of-all-time queens — the line between fact and fiction gets fuzzy. “There’s a scene where my dad says…” Serena starts, before squeezing Smith’s arm and catching herself. “Well, Will says that you’re doing this for every Black girl. And that really hit me in a different way because obviously at the time we didn’t know.”
The Williams sisters’ tale always contained the ingredients of a celluloid epic: two Black girls sharing a Compton bedroom with three other sisters, learning their game on a pockmarked neighborhood court, and dominating the lily-white sport for decades. But in King Richard (on HBO Max and in theaters Nov. 19), director Reinaldo Marcus Green frames their story through the eyes of Richard Williams, the brash and wily Louisiana-born sports dad who masterminded his two youngest daughters’ conquering of the tennis world.
“I guess the in through Richard appealed to me, because it’s the only way I could be involved,” says the 53-year-old Smith, jokingly. He adds later that the Williams patriarch “reminds me a lot of my father. It was that same generation — men that used to fix everything with their hands. I understood what it was like to live at the edge of survival and to try to sustain a dream.” Adds Serena, 40: “There are so many ways to tell this story. But I think telling it through my dad was the best way because he had the idea. He knew how to do it.”
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