- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
After years of planning, and many different writers attempting to tackle the story of Richard Williams, the father of tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, King Richard finally hit theaters and HBO Max in November. And in February, the film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture.
Trevor White, who produced the film alongside his brother Tim White and Will Smith (who plays Richard Williams in the film), talks to THR about how they got the project off the ground, the challenges they faced and why COVID-19 delays were perhaps a blessing in disguise.
When did it all start?
It started with Tim coming to me and saying, “I think there’s a movie around Richard Williams and how he raised these girls in Compton to make them into the champions they are today.” That must have been back in 2014 or 2015. We started talking about what the shape of that movie could be, and over the years, many different writers explored different takes, from before the girls were born all the way up to seeing them today, to another version that was an entire movie built around their road trip from Compton to Florida. There are so many different ways to explore that story. And it wasn’t until we met Zach Baylin, who presented a take to us that we instantly fell in love with. That was 2017.
When did you go into physical production?
We started prepping the movie in the fall of 2019 and we started shooting in February 2020. We all saw this slow-moving thing, and if you remember, it was so unclear in those early days [of the pandemic], and I remember the last week and a half, the questions became, “Is this going to go down? Is this going to stop us?” And in the first half of those days, it was like, “No, we’ll keep going through it.” And then by the latter half of that it was, “How are we still shooting?” We shut down about 18 days into shooting, and we were down until October. We started prepping back in August, so much of that summer was spent studying the science. As the unions were negotiating their contracts, we were monitoring that and the rule book in which we had to play, but also devising our own way back. We entertained everything from, “Do we take over a resort in Palm Springs and just shoot the entire thing there and do a lot of visual effects?” to, “Is there a way to move a lot of what was remaining to outdoor settings?” … We were really fortunate that the first 18 days of the shoot was almost entirely the Compton storyline, so a lot of that was the interior of the house and also the girls while they’re at their younger age. Thirteen, 14-year-old girls can grow quite rapidly in that time frame, and in a strange way, the break actually didn’t hurt us in that regard.
What challenges did you face apart from COVID-19?
The locations challenge is always hard because you’re trying to tell a truthful story and you’ve got the pictures of the real places in front of you. We went to visit the real Compton courts that Venus and Serena grew up playing on with Richard, and they’ve been remodeled and there’s a big gym that’s been built there now. We couldn’t dress it to look like it used to, so we found courts not too far from there that really had a great look and feel, and the only challenge of that location was that it was right next to a Metro Rail. We had to shoot in between trains moving through because that wasn’t period-specific, but we were really happy with those courts. We knew instantly that the surfaces themselves had a lot of cracks in them and they seemed a little worn down and dated, and that’s truthful to what Venus and Serena grew up playing on. … I think one of the biggest challenges that we faced was something that consumed a lot of our time and effort, and that was making the tennis look real. And not only real, but making it look great. Because you’re showing not only two of the greatest tennis players who ever lived, but you’re seeing them at three different stages in their development. And so we needed to be able to not only take two girls who are actors — and not tennis players — and make them believably feel like great juniors tennis players, and then great early professional tennis players. And there’s a difference in that three-year span. Navigating how to approach that, between the training of the actresses — who really put in so much time and effort, and we couldn’t have done it had they not been so committed — but also figure out the right marriage between our actors, our doubles, visual effects and all of that. And that was kind of another thing that the pandemic helped us with. It gave us more time to really hone that process.
The girls learned to play tennis for the film, right?
They did. About four months out from production, we started putting them into tennis boot camp with our trainer, Eric Taino. And they really committed. By not having people who were already pretrained in tennis in a weird way was good, because we were able to mold them in the style of Venus and Serena from the beginning. Had they already developed their own style and form as players, it would have been hard to re-teach something that you’re so familiar with. It worked in our favor that it was a blank foundation to work from.
Did you always want Warner Bros. to distribute the film?
When we had developed the script with Zach, and Will was attached contingent on Venus and Serena and the family supporting the film, once those elements came together, we took the package out and we met with everyone that was interested. And we heard why they were interested in the movie and how they would support us with it. I think, ultimately, Tim and I just really got excited about the way Warner Bros. spoke about the film and the vision they had for the film. And so that’s what drew us to them.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a March stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
More from The Hollywood Reporter
How a ‘Pooh’ Slasher Flick May Have Tipped Hong Kong Towards Greater Beijing Censorship
Owen Wilson Says Wig Did “Heavy Lifting” to Help Him Play Bob Ross-Inspired Character in ‘Paint’
Inside the Firing of Victoria Alonso: Her Oscar-Nominated Movie ‘Argentina, 1985’ at Center of Exit (Exclusive)
‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ Director Chad Stahelski Breaks Down the Ending That Made the Studio Say, “Are You Insane?”