Tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams have nothing but praise for the new movie about their father, King Richard, and star Will Smith’s portrayal of their dad.    

Venus Williams tears up as she begins to talk about how much Will Smith’s biopic, King Richard, means to her and sister Serena.

“I think it’s super emotional. Every time I watch it, my eyes are just watering.” she tells STACK of this heart-warming drama, covering the early years of the Williams sisters and how their father, Richard, coached them to become the No. 1 and No. 2 seeded players in the world.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men), the film outlines how, in a brazen 78-page plan, Richard Williams was determined to write his daughters, Venus and Serena, into tennis history.

For the film’s star and producer, Will Smith, the story of King Richard is a story of the impossible dream.

“For the most part, we all have impossible dreams. We have things that we would do if we felt that they were possible, things we would do if we believed. The story of Richard and this family is largely the American Dream. There are very few places on earth where Venus and Serena could happen,” says Smith, whose performance has already generated some of the best reviews of his career.

“At the core, this is about wanting to be the best versions of ourselves and sometimes, our circumstances may not line up with that, and it’s up to the strength of the human spirit to overpower circumstances. It’s wish fulfillment for all of us,” he adds.

Co-starring Aunjanue Ellis (If Beale Street Could Talk) as the girls’ mum, Oracene “Brandy” Williams; Saniyya Sidney (Hidden Figures) as Venus; Demi Singleton (TV’s Godfather of Harlem) as Serena and Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) as coach Rick Macci, it’s a beautiful ensemble cast who functioned very much as a family on set, according to Venus.

“It was amazing to see the family atmosphere on the set. And how much Denni and Sanaya really acted like Serena and I – even when the cameras weren’t rolling, like holding hands… it was so sweet. And I’m just really proud of what everyone has accomplished. It’s pretty surreal to be honest. And they really understood our family and portrayed us in a way that was really us, and I’m very proud of that,” she says.

Serena agrees: “Honestly, no word describes it better than surreal. Just to see these incredible actresses and everyone behind it, just putting this all together. And about, our dad’s journey… so, it’s super-surreal for me. And then to have Will play our father and the way he just embodied Richard Williams. It just took the whole film to a whole new level and it’s a brilliant piece of work.”

King Richard recreates a famous TV interview with a then 15-year-old Venus, where Richard Williams snapped at the reporter for being discouraging. Smith recalls how he actually saw the interview back in the day, “And the look on Venus’s face burned… the image burned in my heart. Because that’s how I wanted my daughter to look when I showed up. And that interview really changed my parenting at that time.

“And I fell in love with Richard Williams,” he continues. “That was twenty-something years ago. And when the opportunity to be a part of this came up, that was the first thing I remembered. I knew I wanted to show a father protecting a daughter like that to the world,” he says.

For director Rei Green, his goal was simple. “I wanted to make a movie that my mum could see. And she’s never seen a tennis match before. But she understands what winning and losing is. She understands what family is. She understands what love is. And she understands what struggle is. And these were things that were relatable to folks like my mother who could see this movie and enjoy it and still understand what’s happening and not get lost in the technical aspects of the sport,” he says.

That being said, Sidney and Singleton trained hard to pull off the Williams sisters’ early tennis style. And with Isha Price, one of Serena and Venus’s three older sisters serving as a co-producer, the film began to take shape.

“It was definitely a journey of wanting to tell the story of my dad. And not have it be one of vilification but more of just getting people to understand who he was as a father and what he wanted to do, and how the family came together to be able to do that,” she says.

“And so then was the process of actually going to my family with the script where I was like, ‘There’s this opportunity. There’s a script. It’s a little raw. There are some things that we can definitely finesse and get right.’ And we have a lot of respect for Will. And he wanted to get it right. We won’t do it unless we’re really bought into the idea of what this could be and doing it right and being authentically ourselves. And that took some time.”

If history hasn’t always looked kindly at the Williams patriarch, she adds, “You know, because that vilification aspect is still out there. And being able to trust that this group of people, this filmmaker and this production team and everyone would do this the right way, when obviously you get one chance at it. You get one time to step up to the line and serve that ball for that point. So, you want to make sure the story was told right and it was fair and it was honest. It really displayed the integrity that we’ve always tried to have as a family… It took some time to get there with my family. Because there was a little bit of distrust as you can imagine,” she says, her sisters nodding in agreement.

“And to have been in the public eye for as long as they have. I think Venus was maybe nine years old when they wrote about her in the Compton Gazette. So oftentimes, I had people asking us, ‘Are you guys really close? Do they fight? You know, off the court’. Years and years of that, you build up a little bit of distrust. But we got there. Because I did trust that as long as there was going to be a footprint there every day. And I might have gotten on a couple of people’s nerves on set. . .” she laughs.

“But it was important for me because I had a responsibility to my family. It wasn’t a singular thing. Everyone had a hand in wanting to get this story right and tell this real hero story of my dad and what he was able to do. But also understand the foundation that my mom actually was able to play and make sure that the heart of the family was there.”

Green speaks to how Smith and Ellis set the tone every day. “Will and Aunjanue were the backbone of the family, not only in the film but on set, really truly creating an environment for everybody to excel, it was amazing to have those co-captains on the field,” he says.

King Richard is in cinemas on January 13