Jessica Chastain Recalls Searching for 'Calmness' When She Won Oscar Moments After Will Smith Slap

"I walked into a very charged energy in that room," Jessica Chastain said of the atmosphere at the ceremony after the incident

Jessica Chastain
Jessica Chastain. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty

Jessica Chastain is sharing what went through her head while accepting her Oscar win after Will Smith struck Chris Rock onstage at the awards show.

At the 94th annual Academy Awards in March, Chastain won Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Her category was announced after Smith, 53, walked onto the stage and hit Rock, 57, over a joke made about his wife's shaved head. (Jada Pinkett Smith lives with alopecia, and Smith said in a statement days later that the punch line was "too much for me to bear" and he "reacted emotionally.")

Smith also won an award moments after, giving a tear-filled speech in front of a stunned audience as he accepted Best Actor.

Speaking with Net-a-Porter, Chastain briefly recalled giving her speech, saying she tried to bring a "calmness" to the atmosphere. She called it a "weird night" overall.

"I walked into a very charged energy in that room, and I was trying to figure out … how to just breathe and create a calmness," she said.

The 45-year-old's speech ended up being one that addressed intolerance, discrimination and her purpose as an actress. Chastain said, "I didn't know everything I was going to say and there [were] moments where I started to get emotional so I pulled it back, [but] I had an idea of what I wanted to use that global platform to create if I got up there."

She added of celebrating her win the rest of the evening, "So many people after [the award ceremony] were coming up to me and they could see how genuinely surprised I was. … I'm used to just putting my head down."

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In her acceptance speech, Chastain said, "We're faced with discriminatory and bigoted legislation that is sweeping our country, with the only goal of further dividing us."

"There's violence and hate crimes being perpetuated on innocent civilians all over the world," she added.

"And in times like this, I think of Tammy, and I'm inspired by her radical acts of love," Chastain continued of her real-life character. "I'm inspired by her passion. I see it as a guiding principle that leads us forward, and it connects us all in the desire that we want to be accepted for who we are, accepted for who we love, and to live a life without the fear of violence or terror."

Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Chris Rock
From left: Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock. David Livingston/Getty; Karwai Tang/Getty; Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

Smith has since apologized to Rock, and he later resigned from the Academy, which then banned him from attending its ceremonies for the next 10 years.

In his statement about resigning, Smith said, "I deprived other nominees and winners of their opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated for their extraordinary work. I am heartbroken. I want to put the focus back on those who deserve attention for their achievements and allow the Academy to get back to the incredible work it does to support creativity and artistry in film."

He concluded at the time, "Change takes time and I am committed to doing the work to ensure that I never again allow violence to overtake reason."

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