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Will Smith Talks ‘Dehumanizing’ Experience of Being Called The N-Word ‘A Hundred Times A Day’ on ‘Emancipation’ Set

todayDecember 14, 2022

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Will Smith took over Red Table Talk Wednesday (Dec. 14) to talk about his new Apple TV+ film Emancipation, and things got pretty heavy when he opened up about the almost traumatic effects of portraying Peter, a character based on a real life man who escaped slavery in the 1860s and later posed for a now infamous photo of the whip scars on his back.

“I was getting called the N word a hundred times a day by very good actors,” he said on the latest episode of RTT, also hosted by his three children, Trey, Jaden and Willow. “It’s rough, it twists your mind up.”

The King Richard star went on to recall a moment onset that helped him fully transform into Peter: When he was trying on neck chains, used by slaveowners to control enslaved people’s movements, and a crew member suddenly discovered that he was unable to get the chains off of Smith.

“He goes to take it off, and it doesn’t work,” Smith said. “It’s locked on and my heart jumps. He’s running around looking for the keys, and for 15 minutes I’m stuck there in the chains. I’m like ‘Will, do not freak.’”


“I’m sitting there and I got it,” he continued. “I’m Will Smith with people running around looking for keys, and my heart is still pounding and I’m still scared. Imagine what it was like for Peter to have that stuff on, barefoot, and nobody cares. It was like, yeah, I got it. I haven’t been able to articulate why, but I felt embarrassed. It was emasculating, dehumanizing, all of that.”

Smith also confessed to his children that he almost went too far during his mental preparations to play Peter, nearly losing himself in the process. This is because the brain stores memories of his time acting as a character as if they were real memories, meaning they still have a real-life effect on Smith even though filming for the movie is long over, he said.

“I wouldn’t say I went too far with Peter, I’d just say I lost track of how far I went,” he said, explaining that he has nightmares from his time on the Emancipation set. “When you go that one click too far, Will Smith disappears. Psychologically, you go farther and farther into Peter and you don’t realize that you are slipping away.”

Emancipation was released on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9.

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