2022 Oscars producer Will Packer is speaking out for the first time since the now infamous Will Smith slap incident to shed some light on exactly what was going on behind the scenes in the immediate aftermath.
In an exclusive interview with TJ Holmes on Good Morning America on Friday, Packer admitted to initially thinking the ordeal was part of a bit—as most folks at home did, too. But after seeing Smith continue to yell at Chris Rock after confronting him on stage, it was clear that it wasn’t.
“Once I saw Will yelling at the stage, [it] was such vitriol,” Packer explained. “I remember thinking: ‘Oh no, no no, not like this. Not like this.’ But I’ve got people, everybody’s still in my ear, you know, saying: ‘OK, what are we doing on camera two? Is he still up there? Are we doing the best documentary category?’ And Chris was keeping his head when everybody was losing theirs.”
He continued, “But my heart at that point was just in my stomach, because of everything about it and what it represented and what it looked like and who was involved. All of that was just—I never felt so immediately devastated like I did in that moment.”
Packer then went on to explain that the LAPD soon arrived and he went to directly speak with Rock backstage to see if he was okay and what action he wanted to take, if any.
“I said ‘Did he really hit you?’ And he looked at me and he goes: ‘I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,’” Packer revealed. “It’s exactly what he said, as only Chris can, you know. He was immediately in joke mode, but you could tell that he was very much still in shock.”
He continued, “I made that clear, like, ‘Rock, you tell me, whatever you want to do, brother.’ The LAPD came and needed to talk to Chris. And so they came into my office and they were laying out very clearly what Chris’ rights were. They were saying: ‘This is battery. We will go get him. We will go get him right now, you can press charges, we can arrest him.’”
However, Rock declined to press charges against the King Richard star. Instead, he was “dismissive” of those options and continued to explain that he was “fine,” according to Packer. Co-producer Shayla Cowan later told the Girls Trip producer that the Academy was about to remove Smith from the ceremony but upon Packer’s advocation on behalf of Rock, Smith ultimately was able to remain seated.
“It happened right before the Best Actor award,” Packer said. “I immediately went to the Academy leadership that was on-site and I said: ‘Chris Rock doesn’t want that.’ I said: ‘Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.’”
Packer then went on to share that Smith called him the next morning to apologize and express his embarrassment, saying “it should have been a gigantic moment.”
Packer made history this year by having the first all-Black production team to run the Academy Awards.
On Thursday, it was revealed that Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson met with the Fresh Prince star for a “brief” conversation in which Smith once again apologized and acknowledged that there would be consequences.
Additionally, and as previously reported by The Root, Rock recently broke his silence about the incident, explaining that he was “still processing” what happened. The Academy has since launched a formal review into the matter and will convene on April 18 to decide on exact disciplinary actions for Smith.