*“King Richard” is the new biopic starring Will Smith as the inspirational and controversial father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
The film explores the family’s earlier years in Compton, California, as their dad Richard Williams guides the girls with his vision for their future.
Tony Goldwyn spoke with EUR correspondent Jill Munroe about taking on the role of Venus’s first professional tennis coach, Paul Cohen, and his relationship with Richard.
Munroe: How familiar were you with Richard Williams’ story when you got the call to be involved with the project?
Goldwyn: When I read the script, I knew Venus and Serena’s father had been their coach and they were very close and he was very involved in their careers, but I did not know this story at all. When I read it, I couldn’t believe it was real. I read books about Richard’s life and how he got to where he did…if this weren’t a biographical story, you would never believe it was true. It blew my mind; I was dying to be a part of it.
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Munroe: Did you get the chance to speak with Paul Cohen? And knowing what we do about the larger-than-life personality of Richard, what did he share with you about their relationship?
Goldwyn: It’s a little bit of a different approach when you’re playing a real-life character. Sometimes, if the role is very famous like everyone knows this person, you are responsible for finding out how that person spoke and moved; how to be like them without doing an impersonation. I didn’t face that challenge on this one because Paul Cohen is not a world-renowned person. But I wanted to get it right, so I reached out to him. I found his e-mail address and wrote him. He was incredibly generous with his time. And it’s a gift because you get something you don’t get when you’re playing a fictional character. He gave me insight into his life, his approach to coaching, and his relationship with Venus, Serena, and the family, specifically with Richard, which was great.
Initially, Richard and Paul had a very contentious relationship. He brought Paul on to professionalize the girls’ game. But he kept inserting himself and disagreeing with what Paul was doing, so they would get into a lot. But what was great, and Paul helped me understand, it was all in good fun, and they respected each other. So it was never acrimonious. It was sometimes a little infuriating because Richard was so headstrong. But Paul admired the type of father Richard was. He respected the optics of the situation, and he knew this was a very white sport, and what Richard was trying to do by bringing these young Black girls in was incredibly challenging and complex. I think he really admired and respected Richard, even though they are both headstrong individuals who get into it.
It was a well-written script, so a lot of my instincts about how I wanted to play Paul were reinforced by the real-life Paul. So there’s a little pressure in that I hope he thinks I got it right, but I’m glad he was happy with the movie.
The film also stars Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena, Aunjanue Ellis plays the girls’ mother, Oracene “Brandy” Price, Jon Bernthal as pro tennis coach Rick Macci, and Dylan McDermott.
“King Richard” will be available in theatres and on HBO Max on November 19.