The actor was a guest on 'The Daily Show With Trevor Noah' to promote his new film.
Will Smith gave his first late-night interview since the 2022 Oscars, where he slapped presenter Chris Rock across the face after the comedian made a joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Appearing on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah on Monday, Smith promoted his upcoming film, Emancipation, a drama following the journey of an enslaved man and directed by Antoine Fuqua.
"When I read this script -- you probably have seen the image, it is a Black man and his back and his arms, it is a pretty famous portrait," Smith began before Noah showed the graphic photo to the audience. "And first, seeing that image was one of the things that really got me, you know, excited to explore this, because you see the image, but you don't know who he is, you don't know what the story is. And then as I started to do the research -- American slavery was one of the most brutal aspects of human history."
He continued, "It was something that was so incomprehensible. It is hard to understand the level of human cruelty. And the screenplay was spectacular, and Antoine Fuqua, he did his thing on this, man. My daughter [Willow] asked me, she's like, '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."
While Smith touted the importance of the film, his first major film release since the Oscars incident, he also addressed the controversial moment.
"That was a horrific night, as you can imagine. You know, there's many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just -- I lost it, you know?" Smith explained. "And I guess what I would say, you just never know what somebody's going through, you know? In the audience right now, you are sitting next to strangers, and somebody's mother died last week. Somebody's child is sick. Somebody just lost their job. Somebody just found out their spouse cheated."
"It's like -- there's all these things, and they're strangers, and you just don't know what is going on with people. And I was going through something that night. Not that that justifies my behavior at all," he added.
While Smith said what he was going through does not justify his behavior that night, the 54-year-old actor said his biggest takeaway from that moment was the importance of kindness.
"You are asking, what did I learn, and it is that we just got to be nice to each other, man," he stressed. "I guess the thing that was most painful for me is, I took my hard and made it hard for other people. I understood the idea, they say hurt people hurt people."
Looking back on his own past, and the violence he said he witnessed at home, Smith said everything just "bubbled up" in that moment.
"It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother. All of that just bubbled up in that moment," Smith said. "I just -- that is not who I want to be."
While it's not who he wants to be, Noah, who is a longtime friend of the Oscar-winner, said he doesn't think it's who Smith is either, calling the moment a mistake.
"I also think that's not who you are. I think that's not who you are. I think everyone can make a mistake," Noah said before being interrupted by Smith who was brought to tears by the late night host's words.
"I will tell you why," Noah continued. "On my side, as a human being, I go, the reason it was shocking is because that's not who you are."
Noah, who said he's also friends with Rock, did admit that what Smith did was "f**ked up."
While the slap itself was only seconds long, the impact of the moment lasted much longer, and though Smith said he can understand people's shock in that instance, he admittedly was "gone," blinded by the rage he felt after Rock's joke about Pinkett Smith.
"I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time. I understand the pain," Smith said, adding that he felt it not only the reaction from the public, but his own family.
"It was like, my nephew is nine. And he is the sweetest little boy. He's like -- we came home, and it's like, he had stayed up late to see his Uncle Will, and we are sitting in my kitchen and he is on my lap and he is holding the Oscar and he is just like, 'Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?'" he shared, once again getting emotional.
While Smith did not want to delve further into the story, he did say that over the last few months, he had to make the decision to forgive himself for what he'd done.
"That was one of the big things for me over this last couple of months, that I had to forgive myself for being human," Smith said. And trust me, there is nobody that hates the fact that I'm human more than me."
Smith has since apologized to Rock, releasing a video on social media and calling his behavior "unacceptable" and expressing his deep remorse. "I can say to all of you there is no part of me that thinks that was the right way to behave in that moment," he told viewers in the video shared in July. "There's no part of me that thinks that's the optimal way to handle a feeling of disrespect or insults."
Following Smith's apology, a source told ET that Rock has no plans to reach out to the actor. The source believes that the timing of the apology was more for Smith's best interest. "He needs the public's forgiveness, not Chris," the source added.