Taking on the roles of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard (released in theatres on Nov. 19), Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton got some special advice from co-star Will Smith.
“He's really wise and I don't even think that he realized that he was giving us a life lesson half of the time,” Singleton told Yahoo Canada.
“I think one of the most important things he said was that everything good comes to an end, but so does everything bad. So let the good outweigh the bad and don't let those bad things stop you, because it won't last forever.”
“He definitely made us look at life in a different perspective, especially as young women,” Sidney added.
“I think what I love about him so much is how humble he stays and respects everyone on set, and he created a relationship with everybody. One thing he told us, that his grandmother told him, to make sure that you respect your peers and people you see throughout your career, because you may see them on your way up and then you may see them on your way down. So you always have to stay true to yourself and be nice.”
'Serena and Venus are basically attached at the hip'
King Richard tells the true story of the Williams family navigating the beginning of Venus and Serena’s tennis careers, starting on abandoned tennis courts in Compton, California. Behind these great athletes, just young teens in the 1990s in the movie, is their father, Richard (Smith), who had a 78-page plan for his daughters to make history.
Venus and Serena themselves were very involved in the project, as executive producers of the film.
“When we spoke to them, we just had the best conversation, we spoke about literally everything except for what it is that they do, tennis,” Singleton said. “We kind of just talked about their life and what it was like for them growing up and who they dated, things like that, and we kind of just got a glimpse of who they are.”
“We heard from several people that Serena and Venus are basically attached at the hip, but it was really cool and really helpful to see that firsthand.”
Sidney said it was a “surreal” experience to meet their heroes in real life, describing them as “incredible” women.
Singleton and Sidney really dove into their portrayal of these women for King Richard, to the point where, even just learning how to play tennis for the movie, on screen you can see the uncanny resemblance in the playing styles of the real Venus and Serena.
“Something that we worked on so much, is just being very specific, because they both have a unique way of playing, they have their own style and so that was something we really focused on,” Sidney said.
Singleton and Sidney agree that the serve was the hardest skill to learn.
“I definitely spent a lot of time on my serve, serves are very difficult compared to everything else,” Singleton said. “You can be good at every other shot in tennis, but it's really unlikely that you'll win if you don't know how to serve.”
While tennis is at the forefront of the story, there’s a larger theme of family, watching the close-knit, supportive Williams clan support each other through all obstacles.
“It wasn’t forced at all, it was so real,” Sidney said. “We went to the mall and Soul Cycle, you know, things that girls would do to bond.”
“We really just hung out like friends,...I forced them to go to the mall, as well as forced them to go to Soul Cycle with me,” Singleton said. You know, but we really had so much fun both on and off-set, we really built a great bond with one another.”