The story of Venus and Serena Williams’ rise to greatness, two legendary tennis careers propelled by the foresight of their father, has often been likened to a Hollywood movie. Now, with the release of King Richard on 19 November, it will be.
Will Smith stars as Richard Williams, the sisters’ father, in a film depicting how he guided his two daughters from the public courts of Compton, California, to becoming two of the most accomplished tennis players in the history of the sport.
Smith cites a famous interview involving a teenage Venus Williams, during which Richard Williams interrupts and criticises a journalist for questioning his daughter’s confidence, as inspiration for his decision to take the role: “I saw that in real time and the look on Venus’ face – the image burned in my heart because that’s how I wanted my daughter to look when I showed up,” Smith said in a press conference on Sunday. “That interview really changed my parenting at that time.
“I fell in love with Richard Williams 20-something years ago. When the opportunity to be a part of this came up, that was the first thing that I remembered. I knew I wanted to show a father protecting a daughter like that to the world.”
Venus and Serena Williams, who are played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton respectively, have gone on to become two of the greatest tennis players of all time, with Serena Williams winning 23 major singles titles, the open era record among both male and female players, while Venus Williams won seven grand slam titles in singles. They are both executive producers of King Richard alongside their older sister Isha Price, who played a more active role in the film’s production and was a regular presence on the set during filming.
Price says that she initially brought the script to her sisters and the rest of their family, and that it took some time for them to build sufficient trust in the project. She says they wanted to make sure that the “story was told right, it was fair and it was honest, and it really displayed the integrity that we’ve always tried to have as a family”.
She added: “It took some time to get there with my family because there’s a little bit of distrust, as you can imagine, being in the public eye for as long as they have.”
The film premiered at the Telluride film festival in September and has received positive reviews for its storytelling and Smith’s performance. Despite the success Serena Williams has achieved across a 24-year career, she says that the experience of seeing her story come to life in a Hollywood movie was eye-opening.
“Honestly, no word describes it better than just ‘surreal’, just to see these incredible actresses and everyone behind it just putting this all together about our dad’s journey,” said Serena Williams. “Because of myself and my sister, it really is just like, ‘Wow, really, OK? Are we really something?” kind of thing. It really is super surreal for me.”
While their careers are being told on the big screen, they have not yet finished. During a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live for the movie’s promotional run, Serena Williams said that she was “definitely” planning to play in the Australian Open. The 40-year-old has not competed since tearing her hamstring after slipping in her first-round match at Wimbledon in June. Venus Williams, also nursing an injury that forced her to withdraw from the US Open, has also previously stated her intention to compete in 2022. Venus Williams, 41, made her professional debut 27 years ago.