The Academy Award-winning actor got the chance to sit down with Noah for his first late-night interview since earlier in the year on Monday night’s episode. Smith was there to promote his latest feature, Emancipation, directed by Antoine Fuqua which will debut in theaters on Friday before airing on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9. During the conversation, Noah ventured a question about that night at the Academy Awards where Smith strode onstage and slapped presenter Chris Rock who had made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith.
“I’d love to know since we’ve been talking – what has the journey been like that day? What has it been like for you,” Noah asked. “Well, yeah that was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” Smith responded. “There’s many nuances and complexities to it, you know. But at the end of the day, I lost it. And I guess what I would say is at the end of the day, you never know what somebody’s going through.” Smith continued, tearing up at one moment, “I was going through something that night. Not that it justifies my behavior. If you’re asking me what did I learn…I learned we just gotta be nice to each other, man. It’s hard. It’s like I took my pain and made it harder for other people.”
Noah followed up with a question referencing the actor’s memoir. “You talk in your book about being afraid of conflict, you were afraid to fight. For me in that moment, it’s like you stood up for the wrong thing at the wrong time in a way.” Smith replied, “It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother, you know? All of that just bubbled up in that moment. That is not who I want to be.”
Smith reflected on his experience filming Emancipation, which features him as the enslaved man who escaped to freedom and would be later referred to as “Whipped Peter” due to the photographs of him showing the keloid scars on his back. That picture would be widely distributed as a shocking example of the brutality of slavery in the United States. “My daughter asked me, ‘Daddy, do we really need another slave movie?’ I said, ‘Baby, I promise you, I wouldn’t make a slave movie. This is a freedom movie,’” Smith said.
Check out the full interview below.