Cops were ready to put Will Smith in handcuffs after smacking Chris Rock on stage, but Rock was against it, Oscars producer Will Packer said in his first interview since the incident.
Packer said “Good Morning America’s”T.J. Holmes said that he was shocked by the slap and thought it was part a bit they had planned.
“Once I saw Will yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped. And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh no, oh no,’”Packer, he said.
“Because Chris handled the moment with such grace and aplomb, it allowed the show to continue,” Packer continued.
Packer was the Oscars first official Rock that he spoke to after he left stage.
“I said, ‘Did he really hit you?’ And he looked at me and he goes, ‘Yeah, I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali.’ He was telling me, ‘I’m fine. Let’s just get past this. I’m getting out of here. I can’t believe this happened,”Rock said.
According to Packer, the LAPD arrived within minutes of the incident and prepared to arrest Smith for battery. Rock was not. “was very dismissive of those options,”According to the producer.
Smith was being thrown out by the Academy’s leaders, but Packer claims he talked them out.
“They were about to physically remove Will Smith. And I said Chris Rock doesn’t want that. Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse,”Packer, he said.
Smith decided to stay and the show continued, but the atmosphere in the theater was like ice.
“[Energy] sucked completely out of it. It was like somebody poured concrete in that room. It sucked the life out of that room and it never came back,”Packer, he said.
Packer said that everyone hoped Smith would redeem his self in his speech after he won Best Actor.
“We were hoping that he would make it better, that he would stand on that stage and say, ‘What just happened minutes ago was absolutely and completely wrong. Chris Rock, I am so sorry. Please forgive me.’ That’s what I was hoping for,”Packer, he said.
Smith didn’t apologize to Rock until the next day.
On Tuesday, Smith reached out to the president and CEO of the Academy to formally apologize. The Zoom call lasted six minutes, according to reports.
In Hollywood, people are asking if Smith’s career might be irreparably damaged.
“His brand is permanently tarnished,”One top agent said that he compared him to Mel Gibson, who was a victim of racist outbursts.
“He’s definitely going to have to work to fix his public image, because right now, people are not happy with Will Smith. He doesn’t really seem to feel too bad, and the apology really seems to be a PR stunt. That’s what a lot of people are saying,”Elizabeth Wagmeister, chief correspondent for Variety, said.
Rock still lives in Boston and sells out the theater every night to see his stand-up performances.