King Richard: Jon Bernthal and Aunjanue Ellis on telling the Williams sisters’ story and working with Will Smith
Think you know something of the story of Venus and Serena Williams’ journey to worldwide tennis fame? Well, King Richard, from director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men), can probably still teach you a thing or two. The film delves into their backstory like never before, particularly highlighting the role of their father, Richard Williams, and mother, Oracene Price, in skyrocketing their journey from humble beginnings in Compton to global sports superstardom in the elite (and conspicuously white-dominated) sphere of tennis.
With Will Smith in the titular role (giving arguably the performance of his career) and two astounding young actresses – Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton – stepping into the roles of Venus and Serena as they come of age into the tennis world, this is an emotionally absorbing, beautifully crafted and compelling telling of their barely believable story from a unique angle. While it doesn’t shy away from the struggles the family faced with abject poverty and racism (the girls bunked up with their many sisters in a single room, only able to practise on potholed, gang-surrounded courts), nor Richard’s flaws, it’s ultimately a film with a big heart and contagious sense of hope.
Having already inspired a generation, particularly women and young black women, through their achievements as athletes, the Williams sisters will no doubt be able to inspire yet another generation through this big-screen reimagining of their journey to get to the top.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, The Many Saints of Newark) about the preparation he underwent to play the girls’ coach, Rick Macci, what it was like working alongside Smith and how the role compared and contrasted with his usual “tough guy” roles.
We also had the pleasure of speaking with chat with Aunjanue Ellis (Men of Honor, The Book of Negroes) who plays Oracene Price, the Williams sisters’ mum, about how she saw the mother’s role within the family, what it was like being on set with Smith and shooting some of the movie’s most emotive scenes alongside him.
Watch the trailer for King Richard here: