Will Smith Recalls Reading 'Opposing Reviews' of His Films: 'Did They Even Look at the Same Movie?'

His King Richard costar Aunjanue Ellis also spoke with PEOPLE at the NBR gala, saying she "never in a million years" expected awards season attention like this

Will Smith is glad everyone's on the same page about King Richard.

The 53-year-old star accepted the best actor honor at the 2022 National Board of Review gala, hosted at Cipriani 42nd Street on Tuesday. On the event's red carpet, he told PEOPLE (The TV Show!) that he's delighted people feel as strongly about his award-winning movie as he did from the get-go.

"I guess the biggest surprise so far for me with this film is how unanimous the reaction is to the film," says Smith.

"I've made 30 years' worth of movies and there's never been this kind of blanket agreement that it's a good movie," he continues. "I've made things that, I would read opposing reviews and I'm like, 'Did they even look at the same movie?' you know, with Ali and with The Pursuit of Happyness."

Smith — who is nominated for Best Actor at the upcoming Oscars and has already won a SAG, BAFTA and Critics Choice Award for his performance — adds, "Just how many people agree that it's a good movie is a big surprise for me."

Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis
Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis. Udo Salters/Patrick McMullan via Getty

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In King Richard, Smith plays Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. His costar Aunjanue Ellis, who plays the athletes' mom Oracene Williams (née Price), received the best supporting actress award at the NBR gala. She's also up for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

"Well, I'm not gonna have all these people paying attention to me and sending me clothes. That's gonna be over. So I'll miss that part," Ellis, 53, jokes to PEOPLE about awards season coming to a close.

"But yeah, I'm excited for the [the Oscars] and seeing everybody. And it is just, I never in a million years—," she continues, getting emotional over the praise. "I'm a little speechless right now, you know?"

Who is she looking forward to possibly meeting on Oscars night, this March 27? "[Host] Regina Hall, hopefully Judi Dench, and Beyoncé. Oh my God. Like, that's the question: Is she gonna perform? My fingers are crossed." (Beyoncé scored her first Oscar nod this year, Best Original Song for King Richard's "Be Alive.")

Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures

Also on the red carpet was Questlove, who recognized by the NBR for best documentary for his Summer of Soul movie. He shared a hug with Smith, who's also from Philadelphia, and explained what makes the actor such a big star: "It's that he's a human being," he said.

"He has allowed me to hit him at 3 in the morning and he gets me out of my head sometimes with advice on just everything," the Roots drummer, 51, tells PEOPLE. "But I'm very proud. I predicted that, you know, this is gonna be a special year for both of us and I couldn't be happier for the guy."

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