How Aunjanue Ellis Fought for Her' King Richard' Role Over 'More Famous' Actors: 'I Wanted This Part'

"It didn't worry me too much because I felt like, 'I'm going to have a shot at this'," the Oscar-nominated actress tells the PEOPLE Every Day podcast about playing Venus and Serena Williams' mom

Aunjanue Ellis knew she might be a long shot to land the role of the mother of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in the acclaimed drama King Richard, but she was determined not to let the part slip out of her hands.

Now the hard work has paid off as the veteran actress is up for her first Academy Award, having been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Oracene Williams (née Price). But as Ellis, 53, recalls in a new episode of the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, the minds behind the film were initially interested in getting a more high profile name for the role.

Aunjanue Ellis
Dia Dipasupil/FilmMagic

"I knew that they were interested and were going to pursue some other actors who are a lot more famous than I am, I'll just put it like that," the actress explains. "I wanted this part when I read it... But when I found out that they were thinking about other people, it didn't worry me too much because I felt like, 'I'm going to have a shot at this'."

Ellis then taped herself with her sister while "yelling at my nieces and nephew in between takes" in order to get the audition just right, before scoring meetings with director Reinaldo Marcus Green and her eventual co-star and executive producer Will Smith. "I had to on the down low get on a plane while I was doing Lovecraft Country and run out to Los Angeles real quick and read with Will at his house," she recalls, revealing that she even had to change and brush her teeth on the plane because she didn't want to ask Smith if she could do it in his home: "I couldn't do that."

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

The When They See Us star calls the meeting "lovely" and says it ended with a meal prepared by Smith "because that's what he does; he feeds people really well." A week later, she got the call that the role of Oracene was hers, and received the chance of a lifetime filming the biopic with the Oscar-nominated actor. "What's so great about Will is that what's fundamental for him is that everybody on the set be treated really well," Ellis notes. "He feels that it should be a place of joy and he creates that environment."

The resounding praise for Ellis' performance has led to nominations at the SAG Awards, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and now the Academy Awards. Hollywood's biggest accolades will be handed out on March 27, and until then, the Quantico alum is focused on taking this entire experience "day by day."

Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures

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

Ellis —who will also be honored at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards on March 24— is going to "enjoy" the final weeks of this awards season, hoping the Oscars "will be another night that I'm going to have a good time."

"Being a part of this was a personal, very specific dream that I had," she adds. "I've wanted this for a long, long time, so I'm so happy about that."

Check out more episodes of PEOPLE Every Day, airing on Apple podcasts, iHeartMedia, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

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