Will Didn't Ask Will to Leave, Got That?
April 7, 2022
Will Packer, the lead producer of the Oscars telecast that was thrown into upheaval after the actor Will Smith went onstage and slapped the comedian Chris Rock, said Friday that after Mr. Smith had been asked to leave the ceremony, he urged the Academy leadership not to "physically remove" him from the theater in the middle of the live broadcast.
Mr. Packer said he had learned from his co-producer, Shayla Cowan, that there were discussions of plans to "physically remove" Mr. Smith from the venue. So he said he immediately approached academy officials and told them that he believed Mr. Rock did not want to "make a bad situation worse."
"I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time," Mr. Packer said. "Because as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point. It has been explained to me that there was a conversation that I was not a part of to ask him to voluntarily leave."
Mr. Packer gave his first interview since Sunday's broadcast to "Good Morning America" on ABC, the network which also broadcasts the Oscars. In the interview, Mr. Packer said that Mr. Rock's joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair was unscripted "free-styling."
"He didn't tell one of the planned jokes," he said of Mr. Rock.
Someone close to Mr. Rock who asked to speak anonymously because the Academy's inquiry into the incident is ongoing said that Mr. Rock was never asked directly if he wanted Mr. Smith removed. Had he been asked, it was not clear how Mr. Rock would have responded, the person said. Mr. Rock was only asked if he wanted to press charges, and he said that he did not, the person said.
Mr. Packer said that, like many viewers at home, he had originally thought the slap might be part of an unplanned comedic bit, and that he was not entirely sure until he spoke with Mr. Rock backstage that Mr. Smith had actually hit the comedian.
"I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali," Mr. Packer recalled Mr. Rock telling him.
Mr. Packer said that Mr. Smith reached out and apologized to him the morning after the Oscars. And he praised Mr. Rock for having kept his cool. "Chris was keeping his head when everyone else was losing theirs," he said.
"I've never felt so immediately devastated," Mr. Packer said of the incident.
Asked if, after hearing Mr. Smith's acceptance speech, he wished that the actor had left the ceremony, Mr. Packer said that he did, noting that Mr. Smith had not used his remarks to express real contrition and apologize to Mr. Rock.
"If he wasn't going to give that speech which made it truly better, then yes, yes," Mr. Packer said when asked if he wished Mr. Smith had left the ceremony. "Because now you don't have the optics of somebody who committed this act, didn't nail it in terms of a conciliatory acceptance speech in that moment, who then continued to be in the room."
Mr. Smith did not apologize to Mr. Rock until Monday evening, after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which administers the awards, had condemned his actions and opened an inquiry into the incident.
Mr. Packer's comments came after days of questions about why Mr. Smith had seemed to face no repercussions for striking a presenter on live television.