Will Smith Gets Early Oscar Buzz for Playing Venus and Serena Williams' Father: 'Hard to Beat'

Will Smith plays Richard Williams, the father and first tennis coach of Venus and Serena Williams, in the upcoming biopic King Richard

Photo: Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures

Will Smith's performance in King Richard is getting Oscar Buzz.

After the film debuted at the Telluride Film Festival on Thursday, critics shared their rave first impressions of the film.

Smith plays Richard Williams, the father and first tennis coach of superstars Venus and Serena Williams, in the film.

The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg tweeted, "Don't remember ever choking up during a movie as much as I did during KING RICHARD. It's the most amazing story, told so well. I ballboyed for Venus, got to know Mr. Williams, practiced at Macci's academy—they nailed it all. Will Smith is gonna be hard to beat. The film too. Man!"

Variety editor Clayton Davis also tweeted his thoughts, writing, "'King Richard' is love. '#KingRichard' is family. The 'Rocky' of tennis movies. The 'Rocky' for every Black kid in the world. Will Smith's finest moments as an actor. Saniyya Sidney is proof the future for Black women in Hollywood is bright. Welcome to the Oscar Race! #Telluride."

Critics Scott Menzel and Scott Mantz agreed, with Menzel tweeting, "King Richard is an inspirational feel-great film that is certainly going to get a ton of awards attention. Will Smith delivers his best performance since the Pursuit of Happiness and don't be surprised if Aunjanue Ellis gets a supporting actress nomination too. #KingRichard."

Mantz tweeted, "KING RICHARD: Excellent film! A rousing, feel-good crowd-pleaser about the rise of tennis superstars Venus & Serena Williams! Oscar noms for #WillSmith (Lead Actor) & #AunjanueEllis (Supp Actress), maybe Best Pic! Loved from start to finish! @KingRichardFilm #Telluride."

Smith has previously been nominated for two Oscars. In 2001, he was nominated for portraying Muhammad Ali in Ali, and in 2006 he netted a nod for The Pursuit of Happyness.

The trailer for the film debuted in July and followed the training plan Richard set up to prepare two of his daughter for tennis greatness. Serena and Venus are played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton.

Richard Williams, Venus and Serena Williams
Venus, Richard and Serena Williams. Paul Harris/Online USA/ Getty

At the time, Smith, 52, shared the trailer on his Instagram and YouTube channels, writing, "One of the greatest honors as an actor is to be able to celebrate someone's legacy while they're still here creating it. I've gotten to do it a few times in my career playing Chris Gardner and Muhammad Ali, and every time it's a fulfilling and expansive experience beyond compare."

"So now, I'm proud to show you all our first trailer for #KingRichard, the story of the man who introduced the world to @Venus Williams and Serena Williams," Smith wrote. "The origin story for some REAL DEAL superheroes!!"

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"Thank You Venus, Serena, Isha, Lyndrea, Yetunde, Oracene and Richard for letting us share your story with the World!" he added, "See y'all on Nov 19 in theaters and @HBO Max!"

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Joe Bell) and written by Zach Baylin, the film also stars Tony Goldwyn, Dylan McDermott and Aunjanue Ellis.

King Richard is in theaters and on HBO Max on November 19.

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