Awards season is more of a tournament than a single match, but Will Smith advanced Sunday night in his attempt to turn the circuit into his own grand slam.

The King Richard star won the Screen Actor's Guild Award for Male Actor in a Leading Role — Motion Picture for his portrayal of Richard Williams, the ambitious and driven father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams.

Smith paid tribute to the man he embodied, as well as the two sisters at the heart of the film. "That may have been one of the greatest moments of my career just now because my name was called for King Richard sitting next to Venus Williams," Smith marveled. "Richard Williams is a dreamer like no one you've ever known. He has a power of belief that borders on insanity and sometimes tips over the border, which is absolutely necessary to take something from impossible to possible."

He also celebrated his fellow cast members, including Aunjanue Ellis, who portrays Richard's wife Oracene, and Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who play their daughters Venus and Serena Williams, respectively.

"Aunjanue, you pushed every single day, you demanded authenticity, and you did it in such a beautiful and quiet and powerful way," he said. "You did Ms. Oracene wonderful justice."

Will Smith
Will Smith
| Credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images

Smith paid particular tribute to the young actresses portraying his daughters, tearing up as he thanked them and bringing them to tears as well. "Saniyya and Demi, it was such a great honor for me — you guys are actors so you know how sometimes your onscreen characters bleed into real life — to walk you around this room, to parent you on this film, to deliver you into this business has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life."

He continued on that theme backstage in the press room, explaining why he was so overcome with emotions during his speech. "Working with children, or young people, this business can be so brutal," he said. "Many times, I've seen young people's spirit broken by the brutality of this business. I took it as a personal endeavor to make sure the girls [of King Richard were safe] ... I took the Richard spirit of protector and just watching their faces on this journey, I got overwhelmed with the joy of being able to escort them through the doors of this profession."

Finishing his remarks during the ceremony, Smith returned to the Williams family, thanking them for executive producing the film but noting their wisdom in only signing on after seeing the final product. "Venus, Serena, the Williams family, you entrusted me and our group with your story," he concluded. "You didn't agree to put your name on it until you saw the final cut, I get that. That's real because we be messing stuff up sometimes. Thank you very much. It was my deepest pleasure to honor your family and tell your story to the world."

Smith has been a fixture in Hollywood since breaking out as the charming lead of beloved sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the early '90s. But despite many strong performances, awards recognition has largely eluded him, earning Oscar nominations for his work in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness but never taking home gold in any of the major annual film and television ceremonies.

Since its release last fall, many have projected that Smith could finally secure his Oscar with his work in King Richard and his win tonight at the SAG Awards sets him up for such a possibility, given that the actors are the Academy's largest voting body, and thus, generally good predictors for winners in those categories.

Additional reporting by Lauren Huff.

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