Denzel Washington Speaks Publicly About Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock: 'The Only Solution Was Prayer'

"For whatever reason, the devil got ahold of him that night," the Tragedy of Macbeth star said during a panel at pastor T.D. Jakes' annual International Leadership Summit on Saturday

Denzel Washington has made his first public comments about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock during the 94th Academy Awards.

While appearing on a panel at pastor T.D. Jakes' annual International Leadership Summit on Saturday, the 67-year-old actor explained why he got up after witnessing Smith's response to a joke made onstage by Rock.

"No way I could have sat in my seat," the Tragedy of Macbeth star said during the event live streamed by The Wrap. "That's just not who I am."

Washington, Tyler Perry, and Bradley Cooper were among the stars seen speaking with the King Richard actor, 53, shortly after he hit Rock, 57, over a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, appearing in a possible sequel for the 1997 film G.I. Jane (Pinkett Smith, 50, publicly revealed that she has alopecia in 2018).

Earlier in the conversation, Washington recalled an old adage that resonated with him in wake of Smith slapping Rock during Sunday's Oscars broadcast, per The Wrap, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.

Denzel Washington
Rob Latour/Shutterstock

"There's a saying when the devil ignores you, then you know you're doing something wrong," Washington told Jakes. "The devil goes, 'Oh no leave him alone, he's my favorite.' Conversely, when the devil comes at you, maybe it's because he's trying to do something right. And for whatever reason, the devil got ahold of him that night."

For more on the Will Smith-Chris Rock incident at the Oscars, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

Smith went on to win best actor at Sunday's awards show for his portrayal of Richard Williams in the 2021 film, King Richard. He apologized to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during his acceptance speech, while also name-dropping Washington.

will smith

"At your highest moment, be careful, that's when the devil comes for you," Smith claimed Washington told him just before his speech.

Washington said he thankfully wasn't alone in speaking with Smith after he slapped Rock, confirming that "others [like] Tyler Perry came immediately right over there with me" in wake of the incident, according to the outlets.

will smith
Paul Morigi/WireImage

Though he refused to reveal exactly what was said, Washington told Jakes that "some prayers" were shared between the celebrities.

"I don't wanna say what we talked about, but there but for the grace of God go any of us," Washington explained. He added, "Who are we to condemn? I don't know all the ins and outs of this situation, but I know the only solution was prayer, the way I saw it, the way I see it."

Smith resigned from the Academy on Friday. In his statement shared with PEOPLE via his representative, the actor said he has "directly responded to the Academy's disciplinary hearing notice" and "will fully accept any and all consequences for my conduct."

"My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable," Smith said Friday. "The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones, all those in attendance, and global audiences at home. I betrayed the trust of the Academy."

Will Smith
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

The Academy has since accepted Smith's resignation, Academy President David Rubin confirmed in a statement to PEOPLE on Friday. The Academy said earlier in the week that it "will take a few weeks" to conduct an investigation into Smith's slap.

"We will continue to move forward with our disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy's Standards of Conduct, in advance of our next scheduled board meeting on April 18," Rubin said on Friday.

In February, Smith spoke to PEOPLE about his connection with Washington, whom he called his "mentor."

Denzel washington, Will Smith
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

"We've spent a lot of time together. So we've been talking, he's always been a mentor for me and he grabbed me and he said, 'This is your year,'" Smith told PEOPLE (the TV Show!) host Kay Adams after winning the Screen Actor Guild award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role for his part in King Richard.

"He just hugged me and he said, 'I'm so happy for you. Just love who you're becoming,'" he said, later noting that he has long leaned on Washington for advice.

"He knew me years ago, I would go to Denzel for advice so he's seen me through the years and he was just telling me how proud he is of who I've become and what I've become," Smith shared. "He was saying that he felt like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders somehow."

Related Articles