"I don't know Will Smith. I met him once. He seemed very nice when I met him. He was so fucking good in King Richard. So why the fuck did you just spit on yourself and everybody else with this stupid fucking thing?" Penn said in a new interview with Variety, referencing the moment when Smith took to the stage to hit presenter Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards. "Why did I go to fucking jail for what you just did? And you're still sitting there? Why are you guys standing and applauding his worst moment as a person?"
Penn — who was referencing his 1987 stint in jail after he was arrested for reckless driving and punching an extra on the set of Colors — went on to say that if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had attended the ceremony, Smith would not have walloped Rock.
"This fucking bullshit wouldn't have happened with Zelensky," he told Variety. "Will Smith would never have left that chair to be part of stupid violence. It never would have happened."
The actor and humanitarian has spent the past few years following Zelensky for a soon-to-be-released documentary, Superpower, and he expressed anger that Zelensky wasn't allowed to speak at the 2022 Oscars following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "The Oscars producer thought, 'Oh, he's not light-hearted enough,' Penn said in the Variety interview. "Well, guess what you got instead? Will Smith!"
Mike Coppola/Getty Images; Sebastian Reuter/Getty Images Sean Penn; Will Smith
Representatives for Smith did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment.
Penn, who had decided to make a movie about the Ukrainian comedian-turned-leader before the Russian invasion, elaborated on his relationship with Zelensky throughout the interview, saying how surprised he was that Zelensky kept his appointments to speak with him despite the violence that had erupted in his country. "It blew my mind he kept the meeting," Penn recalled. "There were Chechen kill squads in the streets already."
Penn went on to describe Zelensky's poise the day of the Russian invasion. "His brain is fully oxygenated. His eyes are clear and he's warm. I knew I'm either going to feel nothing or I'm going to let myself love him… I saw a very big change in him from one day to the next. At that moment, he was the significant target. But he wasn't going anywhere. That day, he found out that he was born for this."
Last year, Smith slapped Rock after he made a joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, while the comedian was hosting the 94th Academy Awards. A source told PEOPLE in March 2023 that Smith is "remorseful" and had attempted to reach out to Rock in the months following the altercation.
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