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When WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar opted to launch the studio’s 2021 theatrical slate day-and-date in theaters and on streaming service HBO Max, he had to rush to offer top-tier talent make-goods for lost theatrical returns.
Will Smith, who produced and stars in the upcoming King Richard as the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, took it a step further, shelling out his own money to his co-stars, THR confirmed with two sources close to the film.
Smith enjoyed a hefty payday — according to reports, as much as $40 million — and then personally wrote checks to the cast which includes Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who play Venus and Serena, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal and Aunjanue Ellis, among others. A source described the payments as a nice bonus, given by Smith on top of what they already received from the studio as compensation for the pivot to simultaneous HBO Max release strategy. A rep for Smith had no comment.
At the recent Elle Women in Hollywood event, both Sidney and Singleton separately praised Smith as a person, as a leader and for bringing joy to all of his interactions.
“Being on set with him was an absolute blast,” Singleton explained. “He made sure that everyone felt comfortable and safe and had a great time — it was never a dull moment — ever.” Added Sidney: “He made sure everyone felt included and felt the love. He has such a big heart.”
His generosity was expressed regularly on set, says co-star Layla Crawford. At Wednesday night’s premiere for Red Notice, the young actress said he even brought some cast members to tears by offering new phones. “He gave us Polaroid cameras and different treats all the time. He’s just such a generous and sweet person. He also gave us iPhone 12 Pro Max gifts in boxes. We ripped them open and everyone started crying. I literally cried my eyes out — it was the best gift ever,” she explained. “Will Smith is a blessing, I learned so much from working with him.”
In an interview posted on Nov. 8, Goldwyn confirmed the bonuses to Access Hollywood, adding how pleasantly shocked he was by Smith’s generosity.
“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. I have never worked with anyone as generous as Will. What you said [he gave bonuses/gifts to all of the talent] is true. When this movie, when Warner Brothers decided not to release it, to put it out on streaming, there was a lot of controversy as people know and we just got a call from Will saying, ‘I’m going to make this right.’ I’ve never experienced it, I was floored. I just couldn’t believe it.”
King Richard opens Nov. 19.
Nov. 8, 1:42 p.m. This story has been updated with Tony Goldwyn’s comments to Access Hollywood confirming the bonuses.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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