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Will Smith Says Emancipation's Brutal Shoot Was His Most Difficult - And He Isn't Exaggerating

It's been a long road for Will Smith from sophomoric rapper to sitcom star to serious actor. In a roundtable with The Hollywood Reporter, the former "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" star explained that he finds acting to be a much bigger challenge than rapping. "It was far easier to do music, to be on stage with a hit record, because you know what you have, right?" he explained. "...Whereas with a movie, you know, it's like, you never know. You can love it, you can have done what you think is the best work you've ever done, and you put it out on that Friday and everybody hates it" (via Showbiz CheatSheet).

While a number of rappers have made the transition from music to acting, few have had quite so meteoric a rise as Smith, who won his first Oscar for best actor earlier this year for playing Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams, in "King Richard." However, he infamously stirred up controversy at the awards show for slapping host Chris Rock over a joke about Smith's wife (per Deadline), and as a result, he was banned from Academy events for 10 years and personally resigned from the Academy (via Variety). 

Smith's new film, "Emancipation," debuts next month and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Oscar voters are very torn about whether or not they will consider him for another Oscar. Even the trailer for "Emancipation" drew mixed feedback due to the controversy surrounding Smith. But regardless of how Smith will or will not be recognized for the performance, there's no denying that this was his most physically demanding role to date.

The Emancipation shoot was absolutely grueling

In "Emancipation," Will Smith plays real-life enslaved man Peter–who was made famous by the photograph of his whipped back that was taken in 1863–as he escapes to the North for freedom (via History). In an interview with EW, Smith explained that "Emancipation" was easily his most difficult role to date. "The swamp, the gators, and snakes, and spiders — and then we had a COVID shutdown," Smith recalled. "We had a hurricane. We had the heat index clipping up at 115 degrees. I mean, it was absolutely grueling."

Smith went on to imply that the brutal conditions amounted to a more powerful final result. "I am as proud as I have ever been of a piece of art," he added. In the same interview, the actor explained that he felt guilty that any of the other people who worked so hard on this film would be potentially penalized for his actions.

Not everything about the making of the film was unpleasant, though. In a recent Instagram post, Smith showed off his favorite moment of filming when the rain shut down the production for a few beautiful moments. He wrote, "I love how [the rain] makes everything stop. It's beautiful. It's also a moment I want to find for the character. In the middle of all of the hell he just finds a moment of the beauty of god in nature and realizes that the problem is man, the problem is in the hearts of men, it's not in god's world." After everything Peter goes through, it would be hard for him to find beauty in the world, but perhaps Smith has the acting chops to bring through that complexity in the character.