Aunjanue Ellis Says She Got an 'Education on How to Be a Great Superstar' from Will Smith

The Oscar nominee praises her King Richard costar's "level of commitment" on set and off

Aunjanue Ellis got a masterclass in star-power from Will Smith.

In King Richard, the pair star as the parents of Venus and Serena Williams years before the sister athletes both became tennis pros.

Ellis, 53, scored her first Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category, and as part of PEOPLE's 2022 Oscars portfolio in this week's issue, she shares what she took away from working with Smith, 53.

"It's very holistic with him, you know, who he is on camera with Richard Williams and how much he doted on those girls was how he doted on those girls when we weren't shooting," she recalls. "They fell in love with him, 'cause it's easy to do. It was great."

"What surprised me most about him was the first day that I went into rehearsal with him, he had Post-It notes of every scene broken down of the entire movie. ... I just thought, 'He doesn't have to do that,' " adds Ellis of Smith. "It just shows his level of commitment even at this stage of his career. I was so impressed by that."

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2022 Oscar Portfolio
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"The other thing that I loved about him and the experience of working with him is that it's an education in how to be a great superstar, how to be a great movie star," she continues, "but with him, it's really an education in how to be a great man. That's not celebrated enough."

2022 Oscar Portfolio
Ben Watts

Ellis' performance as Oracene Williams (née Price) led to nominations at the SAG Awards, BAFTAs and Golden Globes as well this awards season. While on a recent episode of the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, the actress explained how she's soaking it all in "day by day."

"I have had a good time these last couple weeks," she said. "I didn't expect that I would go to these events and win or lose. I'm like, 'Oh, this is fun.' "

For more on this year's Oscar nominees, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

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