Will Smith holds court with Venus and Serena Williams in EW's King Richard cover shoot portraits
King Richard's royal trio
In King Richard (in theaters Nov. 19), Will Smith plays the determined father of rising tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. For EW's December cover story, the three legends gathered for this cover shoot and discussed making the Oscar-buzzy biopic.
The film chronicles the '90s-era forging of tennis' greatest-of-all-time queens, roughly covering the seven-year period that the Williamses spent trying to propel Venus into superstardom in hopes of Serena following close behind.
"There are so many ways to tell this story," Serena, 40, tells EW. "But I think telling it through my dad was the best way because he had the idea. He knew how to do it."
Reunited for their first joint cover in years, the sisters appear as tight as ever, their playfulness bringing some much-needed lightness to the sweltering EW photo shoot in a Jupiter, Fla., mansion in early October.
"It's kind of difficult for me to say, 'Oh, this film shows me,'" notes Venus, 41. "Because me is Serena. And there's no me without her, and I could have never done what I've been able to achieve on the court without her. It's so symbiotic."
The film was intensely personal for Smith, 53, as well. As an actor-musician who has two actor-musician children in Jaden, 23, and Willow, 21, with wife Jada Pinkett Smith, he felt a deep connection to Richard Williams, both of them fathers who wanted to raise dreamers and doers.
"After my children were born, [I had] that same thing of trying to cultivate young, contributing humans," he says. "Willow showed me the difference between how you would go at a boy and how you would go at a young woman going into the world of competition, so King Richard was just uniquely timed in my life. There was a comprehension of all of the different angles that I have now over 50, that I wouldn't have been able to even conceive at 40."
"The film is not really about winning a championship," says Venus. "It was about this process of making a person who could win in life."
It's a tale Serena herself will be sharing with her 4-year-old daughter, Olympia, when she's old enough. "She gets to see what Mommy was like," Serena says. "I always wondered how I would explain my life. Like, how will I even start that conversation? This is the perfect way."
The finished product couldn't be more meta — if not another Richard Williams home movie, then an instructional video on how to build a future sports great; the tennis version of the Apollo 11 mission. "It was an honor for me to be able to just slow it down a little bit and show people how special his mind and his belief and his faith were," Smith says. "He was a long way from a perfect man, but [he was] perfect in his belief and his love and his passion and his cultivation of his family. Imagine that at the height of Michael Jordan going for six championships in Chicago, his brother was on the team he was playing against in Los Angeles. It's like Tiger Woods is number one and his brother is number two. It's impossible. Right?"
Smith goes head-to-head with destiny's child: Saniyya Sidney's young Venus, a champion in the wings, in a scene from King Richard.
Richard (Smith), Venus (Sidney), Serena (Demi Singleton), and the rest of the Williams clan arrive at Venus' 1994 professional debut in Oakland.
Aunjanue Ellis, playing Richard's wife Oracene, and Smith juggle parenting and practice sessions.
To read more on King Richard, order the December issue of Entertainment Weekly or find it on newsstands beginning Nov. 12. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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