Academy Awards producer Will Packer told “Good Morning America” on Friday that Chris Rock handled the immediate aftermath of Will Smith’s slap with humor and grace — and that Rock keeping his cool was likely the reason Academy leadership ultimately let Smith stay at the ceremony.
Packer said he initially thought the altercation was something Rock and Smith were freelancing. “I thought it was a bit,” he told “GMA.” “I wasn’t concerned at all.” He also noted that Rock’s joke at Jada Pinkett-Smith’s expense — which set Will Smith off in the first place — wasn’t part of his scripted set.
Packer says he approached Rock as he was coming offstage and asked, “Did he really hit you? … and he looks at me and goes, ‘Yeah I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali,’ as only Chris can. He was immediately in joke mode, but you could tell he was still very much in shock.”
Smith was nominated for a best actor Oscar for portraying the champion boxer in the 2001 biopic “Ali.”
“I knew it was clearly a confrontational moment because of what was happening from Will in the audience, but I still wasn’t sure that he actually struck him,” Packer continued. “I made that clear, like, ‘Rock, you tell me, whatever you want to do, brother,’ and he was telling me, ‘I’m fine.'”
Packer said that officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were ready to arrest Will Smith for battery — if Rock wanted to press charges.
“They were saying, you know, this is battery, was a word they used in that moment,” Packer said. “They said, ‘We will go get him. We are prepared. We’re prepared to get him right now. You can press charges, we can arrest him …’ Chris was — he was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, ‘No, no, no, I’m fine.’And even to the point where I said, ‘Rock, let them finish.’ The LAPD officers finished laying out what his options were and they said, ‘Would you like us to take any action?’ And he said no. He said no.”
He added that he was told Smith was going to be “physically removed” by Academy leadership, but wasn’t involved in that conversation or decision.
“I immediately went to the Academy leadership that was on site and I said, ‘Chris Rock doesn’t want that,’” Packer said. “I said, ‘Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.’ That was Chris’ energy. His tone was not retaliatory, it was not angry, so I was advocating what Rock wanted in that time which was not to physically remove Will Smith at that time because as it has now been explained to me, that was the only option at that point.”
Packer said Smith apologized to him directly the following morning. Smith used his acceptance speech to apologize to the Academy and others, but reserved any mention of Rock for his Instagram account, where he addressed the comedian directly for the first time.
Rock went ahead with his planned stand-up set in Boston on Wednesday night, but only briefly addressed the incident, saying he was “still processing” and would address it at length “sometime in the future.” Rock then stuck to the script for his comedy show — something he apparently didn’t do during the Oscars.
Packer told “GMA” that Rock’s teleprompter was fully loaded with pre-written jokes … that went totally unused.
“I said, ‘Watch this, he’s going to kill'” Packer said, “because I knew he had an amazing lineup of jokes that we had. We had him in the prompter and ultimately he did not get to one joke. He didn’t tell one of the planned jokes.”