Will Packer also says Chris Rock attempted to lighten the mood backstage that night: "He was immediately in joke mode, but you could tell he was very much still in shock."

Oscars producer Will Packer says he advocated for Will Smith to stay at the 94th Academy Awards, hoping he would attempt to make amends for slapping Chris Rock during the telecast after the comedian made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

"I think many of us were hoping that he'd go on stage and make it better," Packer said Friday in an interview with Good Morning America, noting that the King Richard star didn't "nail it in terms of a conciliatory speech" as he accepted his trophy for Best Actor minutes following the incident — after which he was permitted to stay in the room for the remainder of the telecast.

He added, "It couldn't be made right in that moment because of what had happened, but I think we were hoping that he'd made it better, that he'd stand on that stage and say what just happened minutes ago was absolutely and completely wrong. 'Chris Rock, I'm so sorry, please forgive me.' That's what I was hoping or. I felt like he was goin' to win [Best Actor], and I was hoping, if he stayed, that he said that."

Will Packer on Good Morning America
Oscars producer Will Packer discusses Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards on 'Good Morning America.'
| Credit: ABC

Packer told GMA that the LAPD was on site at the Dolby Theatre, giving Rock the option of arresting Smith in the moment.

"I immediately go up to Chris and I said, 'Did he really hit you?' and he looked at me and he goes, 'Yeah, I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,' as only Chris can," said Packer, recalling the aftermath. "He was immediately in joke mode, but you could tell he was very much still in shock."

Packer continued, "I made that clear, like, 'Rock, you tell me, whatever you want to do, brother.' He's telling me, 'I'm fine, let's just get past this, I'm getting out of here, I can't believe this happened.' The LAPD came and needed to talk to Chris, so they came into my office and they were laying out very clearly what Chris' rights were, and they were saying, 'This is battery. We will go get him. We're prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him.' As they were talking, Chris was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, 'No, I'm fine, no, no, no,' and even to the point where I said, 'Rock, let them finish,' and they said, 'Would you like us to take any action?' and he said no. I didn't have any conversation with Will."

Packer said he'd "not been part of" conversations about physically removing Smith, but "immediately went to the Academy leadership on site" to convey what he thought Rock wanted in the moment.

"'Chris Rock doesn't want that,' I said. 'Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.' That was Chris' energy. His tone was not retaliatory or aggressive-angry, so I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time, which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time, because as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point," Packer said. "It has been explained to me that there was a conversation that I was not part of to ask him to voluntarily leave."

Rock's team did not respond to EW's request for clarification on whether he explicitly asked Packer to advocate for Smith to remain in the audience at the ceremony. Representatives for the Academy also did not immediately respond to EW's inquiry about Packer's GMA remarks.

Speaking about the rest of the ceremony, Packer seemingly addressed criticism in recent days from actors Zoë Kravitz and Jim Carrey and Oscars cohosts Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer speaking out against Smith's behavior, as well as the warm reception Smith received in the room while accepting his Best Actor statuette after striking Rock in the face after the performer likened Pinkett Smith's shave head to Demi Moore's in the movie G.I. Jane. (Pinkett has been open about her struggles with alopecia, which causes hair loss.)

"It wasn't like this was somebody they didn't know," Packer said of Academy Awards attendees, who rose to their feet as Smith collected his prize. "It does't make anything he did right and doesn't excuse that behavior at all, but I think the people in that room who stood up stood up for somebody who they knew, who was a peer, a friend, a brother, who has a three-decades-plus-long career of being the opposite of what we saw in that moment. I think these people saw the person that they know and were hoping that somehow, some way.... I don't think that these were people that were applauding anything at all about that moment. All these people saw was their friend at his absolute worst moment, and were hoping that they could encourage him and lift him up and that he would somehow try to make it better."

Packer also cited Rock's handling of the moment — including proceeding to present Questlove with his Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for Summer of Soul, which was why the comedian was on stage in the first place — as saving "what was left" of the hope for a positive ceremony following the slap.

Will Smith and Chris Rock
Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars.
| Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

"Because Chris handled the moment with such grace and aplomb, it allowed the show to continue," said Packer. "It gave us license in a way to continue the show, which is what we're trying to do. It was such a huge moment and such a sad and disappointing moment that it wasn't something we were going to come back from within that night, within this week, I don't know when we'll come back."

On Monday, Smith issued a formal apology to Rock and the Academy after initially leaving the former out of his acceptance speech.

"I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness."

Earlier this week, EW obtained an internal memo sent to Academy members by AMPAS President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson that expressed outrage over Smith's actions, and promised that the group was exploring "appropriate action" and disciplinary measures that could take "weeks" to determine, but could include stripping Smith of his Oscar and/or expelling him from the Academy.

Watch a portion of Packer's Good Morning America interview above.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring Oscars analysis, exclusive interviews, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's movies and performances.

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