During a new episode of Red Table Talk, Smith discussed his experience of acting in the new film and detailed the most mentally exhausting elements of portraying Peter, an enslaved man who escaped slavery in the 1860s.
The former “Fresh Prince” details what it was like being dehumanized with vulgar language and how the egregious term being used on set multiple times began traumatizing his mind.
“I was getting called the N-word a hundred times a day by very good actors,” he expressed to his three children, Willow, Trey and, Jaden. “It’s rough. It twists your mind up.”
Later in the conversation, Smith, 54, detailed a moment on set when he was filming a scene depicting him bound by chains, explaining that one of the crew members lost the key and couldn’t free him from the dehumanizing ordeal.
“He goes to take it off, and it doesn’t work,” Smith said. “It’s locked on and my heart jumps. He’s running around looking for the keys, and for 15 minutes I’m stuck there in the chains. I’m like ‘Will, do not freak.’
“I’m sitting there, and I got it. I’m Will Smith with people running around looking for keys, and my heart is still pounding and I’m still scared. Imagine what it was like for Peter to have that stuff on, barefoot, and nobody cares. It was like, yeah, I got it. I haven’t been able to articulate why, but I felt embarrassed. It was emasculating, dehumanizing, all of that.”
The Oscar-winning actor then shed light on his mental state during the film’s production, disclosing that he almost psychologically lost himself in portraying Peter.
“I wouldn’t say I went too far with Peter, I’d just say I lost track of how far I went,” he said, detailing his time on the Emancipation set. “When you go that one click too far, Will Smith disappears. Psychologically, you go farther and farther into Peter, and you don’t realize that you are slipping away.”
The Apple TV+ movie follows “Whipped Peter” and his trek from enslaved man to soldier. Smith’s latest role is based on the real-life story of Gordon, the enslaved man whose whip scars were photographed in 1863 for the infamous “scourged back” photo depicting the freed man with a blistering back.
Emancipation dropped on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9.